Are Politics negative?

Does an organization without political games or hidden agendas exist? If  I would ever see such an organization, I’d be very surprised. Political behavior is of all times and places. And it’s often seen as negative.
Why is that? The term refers to things we usually don’t like:

  • Manipulation, abuse of people or entire parts of an organization for the sake of one’s own interest.
    “(s)he simply use fear to manipulate, to have that position.
  • Putting the own interest before the company’s interest.
    “(s)he is only thinking about his/her own agenda”
  • Lack of transparency.
    “of course (s)he will say yes in your face, but behind your back…”
  • Lack of trust
    “Watch out for him/her: (s)he’s a very political player !”
  • Willingness to take “bad” decisions if they contribute to personal ambitions.

Politics - Machiavelli

This behavior reminds us about what Machiavelli described in his “Il Principe”. This kind of political behavior is the total opposite of  authentic, serving and vulnerable leadership. Is political behavior always negative ? Are the reasons to act politically always negative ? Are there other ways to be political?

I have met several leaders who were not “like that”. They did not fit the profile of the politician. But they were quite good in politics.
They shared with me an important reason why they were leader. Precisely because they had political skills.

Are Politics about skills ?

Is political behavior suddenly “promoted” from something evil into a skill ? Lominger defined political savvy in this way.
You have political savvy if (1) you can maneuver through complex political situations effectively and quietly, (2) you are sensitive to how people and organizations function, (3) you anticipate where the land mines are and plan your approach accordingly and (4) you view corporate politics as a necessary part of organizational life and work.
It is not just a skill. It is a necessary part of corporate life. It allows you to anticipate land minesand plan your approach accordingly. These two aspects drew my attention.

  • Corporate life

    Lominger talks about corporate life, not work. Life on the work floor and in the boardroom is about a lot more than performance, organization charts, KPI’s, logical decision-making. These things are visible. There are also invisible things like hidden ambitions, goodwill, emotions, conflicts. In order to live a happy, successful (corporate) life, you need to deal with both the invisible and visible aspects. You need skills that allow you to go beyond the visible. Political savvy is one of those.

  • Anticipate land mines

    Corporate savvy allows you to anticipate land mines, not set them up. You do not need to become a politician like Machiavelli described politicians. But there’s also no need to become a victim of land mines that have been set up by others. Is that it? Mastering corporate politics is necessary only to avoid becoming the victim of games other people play? And it’s about not setting up intrigues and land mines yourself ?

It took me several years of experience to find out myself what it’s all about. It’s not about finding out when you are (not) allowed to enter the political arena. It’s about finding out the most effective way of achieving your objectives. 

The informal organization

The first blog I published on was about the informal organization. I wrote about the way things get decided and done in an organization. It often differs a lot from how the formal organization works. Real power and real collaboration between colleagues make the difference. But they are often not visible in the formal organization. You need savvy to see them, to mobilize them, to make use (not abuse) of them. Name it informal savvy or political savvy. It’s not about the name. It’s about mastery of the skill.


You may find this a play of words. I believe corporate politics can be very ethical. If they are, I call them polethics. You have a choice how you deal with difficult situations like how you achieve team and company targets (not your personal ones). You can choose what to do when personal ambitions, agendas, or emotions  get in the way. You can choose between complaining (becoming a victim of “their” politics) and the path of polethics:

  1. Choose to participate in the political arena, when it seems to be ‘the only way’.
  2. Define a strategy, partly formal, partly informal.
  3. Design various scenarios of how you can proceed. You can be sure things will go a different way,  but a man well prepared…
  4. Mobilize those parts of the (in)formal organization that are willing to help reaching the objectives.
  5. Reach for your objectives.
  6. Celebrate the victory (in ethical corporate politics).

This movie summarizes it:

Politics or Polethics ?

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