I once had a boss who informed me there was no such thing as company
politics. At the time, I decided that depended on whether you were the
person wielding power or influenced by it. In my career experience, I\’d
categorize self-serving antics, sabotaging behaviors, information
hoarding and artful manipulation under the heading of company politics.
I\’d throw in veiled threats, perpetuated mistruths, finger-pointing and
coercion. There\’s a long list of behaviors I\’ve personally experienced
or witnessed in the workplace under the politics label. And I\’m sure
you can add your own.

These negative work cultures are fraught with fear. Fear you\’ll step on
a career grenade, lose your job, be labeled a trouble-maker or
relegated to the non-promotable category. Fear you\’ll say the wrong
thing, fall into project quicksand, find no support or be kept out of
the loop. These soul-depleting cultures trample self-esteem, negate
initiative, encourage survival behavior and diminish motivation.

But in twenty years in management I\’ve learned something else about
company politics. It doesn\’t have to be a blood-sport. The politics
label can be assigned to assisting other departments, supporting
company initiatives, cooperating with those in charge, sharing
information, and helping others achieve results. You see, strategic
alignments, interdepartmental collaboration and volunteering for
additional work assignments are politics, too.

Politics can be served with a negative or a positive impact. Samuel B.
Bacharach, a Cornell University professor, puts it this way in Get Them
on Your Side: “Politics is simply the way we influence others to
achieve our goals. As long as those goals are positive, and not
achieved at the expense of others, the politics of getting them
accomplished is neither manipulative nor negative. Dictators may be
political, but saints might be, too.”

It\’s the intention behind an action that determines whether politics
creates fear or builds relationships. What\’s the motive? If politics is
a dirty word where you work, undermining results and reducing staff
engagement, consider your contribution to that culture.

You see, we have a choice how we use our power and influence. And don\’t
be naïve to think you don\’t have both. We all have power and influence
over people in our lives: staff, coworkers, family, bosses, children.
We can serve our brand of politics from well-intentioned thoughts or
manipulative self-interest. And each impacts differently.

People who are winning at working understand that politics are not
inherently good or bad. It\’s what\’s behind them that instills the fear
or creates the trust. How we serve our own politics at work is a direct
result of how we show up (in the deepest sense) as a person. Want to be
winning at working? Serve your politics with well-meaning intention.

Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, and speaker. Her career insights column, Winning at Working (www.winningatworking.com ) regularly appears on over eighty websites; and her life-reflections column, In the Scheme of Things (www.intheschemeofthings.com) is published in six states and Canada. Her work has been selected to appear in several anthologies. To sign up for Nan's free eColumn(s), or read more about Nan or her work, visit: www.nanrussell.com.