It is not power itself but the legitimation of the lust for power, which corrupts absolutely.
Power and politics are an inevitable part of human life, especially if you wish to achieve success. One cannot speak of success without discussing two critical concepts—managing success and reaching the top. In fact, you cannot stay on top without a deep understanding of power and the role of politics in the corporate world. In today's world of cut-throat competition within the company and between companies, it is difficult to imagine an organisation without politics.
Yet, it is surprising how many people are still naive enough to believe that there can be areas of human activity without the existence of some amount of politics. They live in a dream world distanced from reality. This is often the world of the protected child, brought up in a sheltered, affluent home by doting parents, of the idealist who immerses himself in social-work projects for the disadvantaged, of the young person who chooses the path of religious life, of the young graduate getting into commercial life, full of knowledge from textbooks on business science and of enthusiasm and noble thoughts!
In their lack of wisdom and experience, all of them believe that intelligence, knowledge, and diligence will take them to the pinnacle of power and glory in a commercial establishment. It won't! But by the time they realise this, it is too late and they then become embittered, depressed and disillusioned. They should have known better!
The truth is that politics and power are as much a part of human life as happiness and trust. While all of us wish to imagine a world without them, it does not exist. Power and politics are not necessarily bad words. They are simply a part of how human beings deal with each other. Every situation in life comes with its own power and political dynamics. It is important that we understand this dynamic and work with it rather than against it. In fact, the starting point to this understanding is to remember that each human being comes with his own set of beliefs. This set of beliefs, combined with our physical, mental and emotional needs, constitute our behaviour, and also the behaviour of others around us.
Develop an Attitude To Manage Politics
You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Whenever a group of people works together and interacts with one another, there are vibes—sometimes concordant, at times, discordant. There are people whom you like instantly, others you begin to like over a period of time, and still others you will probably never like and vice versa. There will be groups you will join, and groups others will mentally associate you with. And, in group conflicts, you will be part of one group against another.
There is no escape from politics. Politics is not confined to the area of 'politics'. There is politics in religious orders, social services organisations, educational establishments and even in research institutions where researchers are expected to be objective and rational and to pursue their research with single-minded devotion. Business corporations, where the principle of 'all is fair in war and business' is often touted (albeit wrongly), are, therefore, the ideal nurturing ground for strongly motivated 'political' behaviour.
The first and most important lesson is that there is no escape from workplace politics. Even if you do not want to involve yourself in politics, you will be dragged into it—because you are never 'alone'. Someone from marketing may be assumed to have interests opposed to a person from finance because, while marketing wants to sell at any cost, finance is keen that collections be prompt, even if sales suffer a little. From a difference of opinion, this simple matter can expand into interdepartmental clashes, group rivalries and finally, individual animosities.
Politics is omnipresent: in the public sector and in government with its additional groups of bureaucrats and politicians who wield great influence; in large public limited companies, where senior directors and managers operate like they own the place and follow the pattern of Japanese warlords with their own private armies and zones of influence; in private or family-owned companies, where different family members may provide 'foci' for group formations and subsequent group rivalries.
Some believe that the only way to escape the all-embracing arms of politics is to work alone, choosing a career path that needs an 'individual' rather than a 'group'. You may be an artist, a small shop owner, or a medical practitioner in individual practice. But even then, the moment you join the artists' guild, the trade association, or the medical association—you become part of a group and, therefore, a party in the political game.
However, the pragmatic way is to embrace this reality of life, and prepare for it—attitudinally and knowledge-wise. Perhaps a good start may be Machiavelli's The Prince. It is an excellent treatise on the art of government. It sets down the basic rules of politics and how you can try and succeed against an intelligent and wily opponent.
So, brace yourself if you work with a group, for you will engage in politics. The choice, unfortunately, is not yours at all. The best approach is to understand and work with the politics of each situation. The level of the political flavour of each situation differs. If you are a junior executive, your involvement in office politics is low. But it is not feasible to try and remain at that level all one's life only to avoid the vicissitudes of office politics.
Also, the level of politics will be lower in the 'less competitive' areas of an organisation—in departments such as research and development (R&D), corporate planning, training, and organisation and methods. These are the more 'academic' areas of an organisation and competitive jostling is thus reduced. Those who want to remain apolitical, or are unsuited for manoeuvring, or cannot develop the skills required to survive and succeed, should choose one of these. However, as you begin to rise, even in these departments, the political stakes will rise.
(Extract from Manager to CEO by Walter Vieira)
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are "Marketing in a Digital/Data World with Brian Almeida and "Customer Value Starvation can kill" with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)