“The person who says “I’m not political” is in great danger, as only the fittest will survive, and the fittest will be the ones who understand their office’s politics”. Jean Hollands (US Trainer and Coach).

Politics in the workplace is a fact of life in most companies and, even if you do not want to take part, it is important for your own survival and success that you are aware that it exists, that you can recognise the players, and that you understand how to navigate around it.

William Shakespeare, in Henry the Sixth, wrote “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. Whilst I do not advocate wholesale slaughter, I do believe that as a manager you would be well advised to be able to identify and weed out the politicians. Leave the lawyers alone as you may actually have need of them, whereas politicians are dispensable.

Author: Tohma; GFDL license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tohma; GFDL license; via Wikimedia Commons

Here are the major types of business politicians and how to recognise them:

The Friend. This is one of the most insidious as they will befriend you and build your trust in them, but they will be trying to destroy your reputation and status behind your back at the same time as they are declaring their undying commitment to you. They will be positioning themselves to others as “I am his friend so I know his strengths and weaknesses ……”.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

The Enemy. These are the easiest to handle as their antagonism is open and full on. Unlike the friend who is stabbing you in the back, this type will openly be trying to stab you in the front, so at least you will have no trouble to see them coming.

The Gossiper. This is the one at the water cooler or coffee corner who knows all the juicy gossip about everyone else. They know who is a secret drinker, who is having an affair, who has a gambling problem, who is having marriage problems and what is going wrong in the company. They have little care about the truth of what they are saying, as their only intent is to undermine confidence, and will cover themselves by saying things like “I am not sure if it is true, but I have heard that …..”.

Author: Rebecca Kennison; GFDL and CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Rebecca Kennison; GFDL and CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

The Yes-man. S/he will agree with everyone about anything and everything that you are saying, to try and ingratiate themselves with you, and to gain a position of being supportive and collaborative, but they will ultimately pursue their own agenda items. Be suspicious of people who never disagree with you as no-one can be right all the time.

The Shape Shifter. This person will agree with whomever they have had their last conversation, and will shift sides as needed, as the need to seem to actually have an opinion dictates. They will agree completely with you on an issue, give their commitment, and then will go away and do something completely different.

The Trouble Maker. S/he just loves to play the political game, and will go out of their way to create issues that don’t actually exist. They will turn people against each other just for the power of being in control and the sport, and for the fun of watching people get angry about things that really don’t matter.

The Hard Worker. If someone is always telling you how hard they are working, the chances are high that they are not. True hard workers just focus on getting the job done. You need to measure people on their ability to deliver results that are reasonably expected of them, and the quality of how they do so. I would rather have someone who works a normal week and gets things done, than someone who works twice as long and keeps telling me how hard they are working, but never quite delivers on time or with quality.

The Unionist. This person will stir up those around him on pretend issues like the ergonomics of the chairs, the lack of choice in the cafeteria and the degree of softness of the toilet paper. Their only objective is to try and turn people against their manager and the company.

The Altruist. This one will never have a problem themselves, but will only raise issues that they say that they are bringing to the surface because of their concern for someone else in their team who is not coping. This enables them to stick the knife into that person while positioning themselves as someone who cares about others. They don’t.

The Bad Apple. S/he may have identified a real issue, but rather than bringing it into the open, will spend time, energy and effort in infecting and poisoning others until the issue takes on an enormity that it didn’t deserve, and which could have been quickly resolved had it been raised early enough.

Author: Janine Pohl; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Janine Pohl; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

As much as possible, you should try and work hard to stay out of the political games that are played by others. Total avoidance may be hard to achieve, but you should at least try to sidestep obvious political situations.

– Don’t indulge in gossip, no matter how juicy it may seem, particularly during coffee, cigarette or lunch breaks where the gossipers seek out an audience. Instead, take steps to ensure that you have the best information available about what is really happening in the company.

– Don’t take sides in office political issues. If you do have a problem, or if you see a serious issue that needs resolution, try and resolve it by talking to your boss. That is one of the tasks in their job description.

– Doing a great job speaks for itself, and ultimately will win against people whose only skill is to schmooze the boss. If you are in a company where the politicians keep winning out, you should seriously consider taking your skills elsewhere, where competency and professionalism are traits that are truly treasured.

– Think before you act. Be conscious of company culture and the way that things get handled and resolved. If someone attacks you by gossiping or spreading rumours about you, remember that revenge is like biting a dog because it bit you first. If it becomes serious, try and find out what is bothering the attacker, and if you can’t resolve it face to face, take it higher. However, if you do escalate, you must be sure that you have all the facts right before you do.

You should also remember the wise words of Larry Hardiman who said “The word ‘politics’ is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’ meaning ‘blood sucking parasites’.”



  1. cnxtim says:

    Recommended reading above all else, especially when compared with
    the novice Sun Tzu – is Macchiavelli – The Prince

  2. Love the words ‘doing a great job speaks for itself’ , a bit like lightness over darkness wins every time – ultimately! Great post with some very useful pointers, deserves to be shared – thanks!

    • leshayman says:

      Patricia, thanks for reblogging.
      I know that “doing a great job” is sometimes not enough, but it is the right starting point. Politicians can win some short term victories but, in good companies, rarely win in the long term. Les

      • cnxtim says:

        My experience in larger organisations (X and S), The Game has to be played to less or more extent. When it gets to the critical stage where you are expending more creative effort on “The Game” than “doing a good job”, time to move on, or go it alone..

  3. Adriana says:

    Did it ever happen to you to be forced to play any of these politician roles? How did you manage such situations?

    Thank you! Adriana

    • cnxtim says:

      With output that was created tactically on an internal CYA basis,,rather than designed to achieve outward facing business goals…

      • leshayman says:

        Tim, it’s the CYA that ultimately infuriates me about how much time gets wasted by political games. Les

      • cnxtim says:

        I couldn’t agree more, and ultimately it is why i quit the majors and went back to Small/Solo. I was spending waay too much of my creative juices on the CYA game..But the money WAS good.. 🙂

      • leshayman says:

        Tim, it’s one of the main reasons that my major involvement is with boards/investment in smaller businesses these days. Les

    • leshayman says:

      Adriana, I have to admit that I have been “the enemy” when I have been openly opposed to someone who I believed should not be allowed to be in a particular role, but I was always open and obvious about my opposition, and my reasons for it, and always first directly to the individual before going any further. Les

  4. Mimi Le says:

    Les, really enjoy reading your blogs and insights. Always boggles me why people can’t just do their jobs and let me do mine. Look forward to your next post.

    • leshayman says:

      Thanks Mimi, I am delighted to have you as a reader. I am always pleased to meet someone who is committed to doing their job.
      My next blog on this Monday is on my view of Leadership, other than that of a CEO or country leader. Les

  5. Ali Alotaibi says:

    God protect me from my friends and I will take care of my foes.
    Nice and informative article.

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