Politics - the Dirty Word

There is not a more relevant issue to managers of technology functions than their ability to influence across the business. Or at least that is the case if those managers want to be perceived as leaders in the business. For many, influence is synonomous with playing politics, and that is percieved as negative by many. Just breaking the word POLITICS into parts tells the story…poli, meaning many, and tics, meaning blood-sucking parasites!

Rick Brandon, president of Brandon Partners (, and one of the foremost experts on organizational politics, thinks about it in a much different way. Rick says politics are merely how one influences in the organization, and in many cases, individuals have chosen to do that using low-integrity or even unethical ways. But influence in itself is not evil, it’s what brings ideas to fruition. The great leaders in the history of the world have used influence to achieve great things. The issue is that many managers and technologists don’t aggressively bring innovative ideas forward because of organizational politics, that is, the bad, low-integrity kind of politics. In fact, in the workshops that I conduct on organizational politics (, usually more than 70% of participants are “under-political” and want to learn how to be better at influencing across the organization, particularly senior leaders.

Here is a simple way for you to distinguish between being less-political and more-political using the role of a manager of software engineering. The less-political manager gains his or her sense of power from the work itself, thus it’s all about creating the best possible software product, getting feedback on its performance so that it can be improved, and highlighting how it was accomplished through an open agenda, teamwork, and going through proper channels. The less-political manager believes the quality of the work will speak for itself, he or she does not and should not have to “brag” about it. The more-political manager comes from another way of seeing the world, not better or worse, just different. He or she derives power from the position held and uses that power in good ways to get things done for the company. Since the power comes from the position, image and perceptions are important, and it is necessary to sell one’s accomplishments in a balanced way. How you say things, who you network with, and how you dress have importance, and are used to create influence through perception. The more-political style will be less likely to seek compromise rather than sticking to the high-ground of a perfect solution.

With this simple example, you can quickly see how the less and more political styles start to clash, but more importantly, you get a sense of the devastating effects that occur when those styles are taken over-board with low-integrity actions. How do you experience politics in the workplace? More importantly, what are the keys to increasing the ability of managers, teams, and staff in technical functions to influence more broadly across the organization? Let me know your thoughts.


Leaders, Teams, and Organizations