Organisational Politics and Career Growth

Will you work for organisation that encourages politics? Will you work for a boss encourages politics? Do you encourage politics? Do you like subordinates who play politics?

I am sure answer will be NO. Organisational politics is a dirty word, nobody wants to be associated with it, but at the same time it is fact that those who reached top are good in politics.

David McClelland and Jeffery Pfeffer have done considerable work in area of organisational politics.

Jeffery tries to trace reason for organisational politics becoming a dirty word.

Firstly, most of the literature on leadership is based on views and experiences of great CEOs, who gloss over the power plays they used to get to the top. Instead teaching on leadership is filled with prescriptions about following your inner compass, being truthful, letting your feelings show, being modest, and not behaving in bullying or abusive ways— in short, prescriptions that reflect how people wish those in positions of power behaved.

There is no doubt that the world would be a much better place if people were always authentic, modest, truthful, and concerned about others, instead of simply pursuing their own aims. But fact is CEOs did not behave in that way. They never hesitated to indulge in power play in their rise to top.


Secondly, people believe in what psychologist Melvin Lerner calls “Just world hypothesis”- assumption that a person’s actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, i.e. all noble actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished.

So people believe if they do a good job and behave appropriately (i.e. stay away from politics), things will take care of themselves. On other hand inappropriate behaviour i.e. self-promotion or pushing the envelope, may be successful at the moment, but in the end it will bring people down.

But world doesn’t go strictly by just world hypothesis.

Jeffery feels that politics/power play, if managed well, can help you in career progression, because power play is must for getting things done.

Any new strategy worth implementing has some controversy surrounding it and someone with a counter agenda fighting it. To get that strategy implemented, you need power.

Power gives you access to money, network and information which can be used to attract resources necessary for project implementation. You can use this to push all the obstacles and sell your strategy.

“You need two things to succeed: substantive business knowledge, so you know what to do, and organizational or political skills, so you can get it done.”

–          Zia Yusuf, CEO, Streetline Inc.

David McClelland in his theory of motivation says managers fall into three motivational groups.

Those in the first, affiliative managers need to be liked more than they need to get things done. Their decisions are aimed at increasing their own popularity rather than promoting the goals of the organization.

Managers motivated by the need to achieve—the second group—aren’t worried about what people think of them. They focus on setting goals and reaching them, but they put their own achievement and recognition first.

Those in the third group are interested above all in power. Recognizing that you get things done inside organizations only if you can influence the people around you, they focus on building power through influence rather than through their own individual achievement.

People in this third group are the most effective, and their direct reports have a greater sense of responsibility, see organizational goals more clearly, and exhibit more team spirit.



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