A very wise man once told me to expect Office Politics anywhere. He actually didn’t need to tell me, because I kind of suspected it. But regardless, he reminded me that every business is crazy in their own special way; don’t expect crazy to just disappear. I thought that I was okay with that axiom, but as it turns out — I’m not. I accept the existence of Politics as a fundamental nature of humanity. But when it becomes harmful and dangerous to the business, I don’t think that it’s okay to just cough up the phrase, “that’s Office Politics for ya. Take it or leave it.” If someone tells me just to take it, I think I’d rather lead it, than leave it.
The Grass Is Always Greener
Don’t ever get sucked into the illusion that the grass is greener on the other side of business. I was given that nugget of wisdom in an exit interview. I expected it, but hearing it from someone with more experience gave me a realistic expectation of my new employer. When you’re new to the workforce, or just plain younger, you can get the idea in your head that all of your problems, like Office Politics, will go away with the new job.
It exists in every workplace, but when it’s a detriment to business, it’s time to stop taking it.
“That’s just Office Politics”
I hate hearing that. Not just because the subject annoys me, but because the person saying it isn’t annoyed. You don’t let people apply that, “take it or leave it” attitude to other issues in the office, so why let it slide for Office Politics? Because the person telling you doesn’t have a solution, and she doesn’t really know the problem. When there’s a problem in the office, you don’t stop with just acknowledging the reason. You fix it.
Jesus Didn’t Observe and Report
I’m going to take a step back for a second. The best way for me to elucidate the Office Politics problem is to draw a parallel from my faith. I’m a Christian and have been for ten years now — so I have twice as much experience as a Christian than as an office worker. Forgive me for stepping into my comfort zone.
As a Christian I am sometimes asked how I can believe in a God when there is so much suffering in the world. Having read Genesis, my response is plain: We are a fallen race who lives in a fallen world, because we chose to know both good and evil. If you read the first three chapters of Genesis you’ll figure it out this way: God makes man. God makes knowledge of good and evil. God gives man the option of knowing Him, or knowing Him and a really crappy world. Man decides to visit God on the weekends, and to know what it’s like to live a life that sucks like a Hoover in a wind tunnel.
If you, knowing nothing about the life of a Christian, asked me why life sucks, and my response were…”because it sucks,” you’d be pretty pissed — because you already knew that.
That’s because, “because it sucks,” is only an observation of the problem. It doesn’t work. You want the root cause, and you want a solution.
So as a Christian, my complete response to the question of life’s suckitude is, “We are a fallen race living in a fallen world because we chose to know both good and evil. But by God’s grace, we’re saved through faith — so we don’t have to depend on ourselves to stop sucking like a Dyson on the wing of a 747.”
My response is not just a statement of the state of affairs, but the root cause, and the solution as well. As a Christian, I’d be doing damage to God’s kingdom if my sole response to life’s suffering was only, “because we suffer.” Jesus didn’t just tell us we sucked, He told us why and then pulled the plug on the vacuum.
Back to Business
So why do I get so freakin’ annoyed when I find a serious problem that’s because of Office Politics?
Easy. You telling me that the cause is Office Politics has nothing to do with the solution or the problem. It’s a description of my present state-of-affairs. Just as with Christianity — the solution to the suckiness of life starts when you tell me the state-of-affairs. You want a root-cause and a solution, too. Telling me that the reason I can’t do my job is Office Politics does nothing to push me towards a solution.
Alpha, Beta, Caged
In my observation, there are two types of people who tell me, “That’s Office Politics.”
The first type of person is what I would call a ‘caged lion’. This is someone whose nature has been beaten out of her. She’s tried going directly to the manager, or talking to the VP, but through the years she’s been beaten into submission. She’s accepted that she can’t get ahead unless she says the right thing and does the wrong one. She tried honesty and learned that it didn’t work. She accepts Office Politics because she has no alternative.
If I were looking at this in the world of Christianity, this is a person who follows the pattern Sin, Repent, Repeat.
The second type of person is what I would call the ‘beta lion’. This is one who has recognized the political state of the office. He has no problem acknowledging that Office Politics are a detriment to business because he uses them to his advantage.
If I saw him in the world of Christianity, his modus operandi is sin or let sin.
Politicians are Just Managers
The alpha lion is the politician, in case you were counting. And a politician doesn’t change anything. Politicians never change anything – whether they’re office politicians or government politicians. All politicians do is manage the state of affairs so that they continue to suit their interests. In government, it’s the folks that voted for them, or the lobbyists that pay their bills. In the office, it’s the same thing. The Office Politician — that guy that constantly kisses butt, passes blame, and manipulates — isn’t trying to change anything. He wants to keep the office in a state where it benefits his interests, or the interests of a select few in the office. He doesn’t want to make any changes that threaten his power in the office. He only wants to maintain his Alpha Lion Status.
Politicians aren’t Leaders, but Leaders are Politicians
How’s that for a chiasmus? Let’s take a step back into the world of the Bible. Moses lead a bunch of slaves out of Egypt. He tried politicking. He tried to talk Pharoah into letting them go. But the point was, “we’re going.” There was no negotiation on that. The question was simply, “Is this going to be easy, or hard?”
Moses was a leader. The decision was made and he didn’t negotiate its success. That’s because when you negotiate success, you’re only managing failure. That’s what politicians do; they manage failure. If you’ve read Exodus, or seen Prince of Egypt, negotiating success didn’t work out too well for the Pharoah. Ultimately, it doesn’t work out for the Office Politicians.
If Moses tried to be a politician, the Jews would have gotten Sunday off. He tried to be a leader — and here’s how you can distinguish the Office Leader from the Office Politician: Leaders don’t stay put. Look At Moses, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Martin Luther. They weren’t managing failure, they were striving for success. Success meant improvement on the present state-of-affairs, not better management of the present problem. Plain and simple.
Office Politics: Take it, or Lead it
I’m tired of being told that my problems in the office are just because I have problems in the office. I know there’s politics, that’s what happens in offices. But if it’s hurting my business, don’t tell me to accept the hurt. It didn’t work for Jews in Egypt, or sin on Earth. If there’s a problem with the Office Politics – be a leader first, politician second. Lead the office out of the problem. Play nice if it can fix the problem. But make it your goal to fix the problem. Don’t burn bridges, but don’t die on hills, either. Just work through the problem with nepotism, favoritism, or narcissism. It’s not your problem, it’s his. It’s your problem if you don’t fix it.
Take it and lead it — or take it and leave it.