All organizations have politics if we mean the kind of politics that occur from the natural group dynamics when people try to cooperate to achieve their goals (hopefully common goals). In this sense, politics is about how we work together as a group, how decisions are made and how power is distributed in the group. Everyone participates in this kind of politics, therefore, office politics or the politics of any group are in themselves natural.
What happens, when politics become the end itself and not the means in an organization? Sometimes, the goal of a group or an individual is to gain and hold power not to achieve any tangible goals for the organization? Any goals that happen to be achieved become tools to hold or gain more power.
This is common in the governmental politics of a country. From the beginning, at least some political parties start with good intentions: A group of people with a shared world view or common values join together to try and make their town, country or the world better. They soon realize that in order to create the changes in society which they believe are necessary they need power and in order to gain power they need support from voters. The temptation becomes very great to say and do things that are popular with voters in order to get the power to drive change. In the end political parties can find themselves so compromised that it is difficult to align their “real” actions with the values and world view they espouse.
Unfortunately, these “negative politics” are not restricted to the realm political parties. They are just as common in non-profit organizations as they are in large corporations. Anyone who has ever devoted time to their local home-owners association or their children’s athletic club has probably experienced the nasty backside of politics.
We all know someone who is well liked by some managers, (maybe not as popular with their peers or subordinates) who seem to be well connected and always in the limelight but who never really seems to achieve anything. I have seen people like this, on stage, taking all the credit for an award that everyone knows is the result of the inspiration and hard work of others (typically their subordinates). I have seen people argue adamantly against an initiative and all of a sudden try to take credit for the idea when it has gained popular support or become a big success.
Despite all this, I am convinced that in the long-term there are two elements that outweigh all the power of politics. Results and integrity!
Any organization that does not reward good results is doomed! In order to succeed organizations must deliver value to their stakeholders. Whether it be shareholders, taxpayers, patients or students the organization that doesn’t deliver will die! Therefore, organizations need people who are focused on delivering results. These results oriented people will, over time, be encouraged and rewarded by their organization for the sake of the organization. This does not mean that a “politician” cannot win short-term victories from time to time but they cannot win long-term or the organization will erode and fail.
Integrity and results go hand in hand! They are really all about who you are, or who you want to be. No person is greater than the combination of her thoughts, words and deeds. And the greatest of these is deeds! Good intentions are fine and well but if never converted into actions they become cobblestones on the path to hell! Intentions translated into words can be powerful and lead to positive change. Words that grow from great thoughts become art, a deed in itself, which may inspire others to great deeds. Great words, combined with bad deeds are hypocrisy. Good intentions transformed into words and reflected by good deeds are the hallmark of a life well lived.
I sometimes think of a time in the future when I am old and looking back on my life. There will undoubtedly be things in my life which I regret (anyone who would not lacks insight) and hopefully there will be things of which I am proud. The question is what has been the overwhelming tone of my life. Has it been a life of ass-kissing, ass-kicking and manipulation or a life of reflection, integrity and achievement? Have I lived the life I wanted to live or a life that looked good in the eyes of others? Will I leave the world better than I found it or taken as much as I could with no consideration price my life will cost the ones I leave behind?