Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


August8PanelAug8Pix (2) Aug8Pix (5)FountainBlue’s August 8 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have such an experienced and diverse panel, who came from a range of backgrounds representing engineering, legal, management, each with in-depth experience leading in tech companies, each with varied experiences working with and for a wide range of leaders at all levels. They collectively shared these kernels of wisdom.

  1. Politics is not good or bad – it’s just the use of power and social networking to benefit a person or team or organization. There are times it could be bad because of the intent, where someone unfairly benefits for example, because those with merit aren’t getting the credit for work well done. But if the game is played fairly and well, right and good will prevail.
  2. Embrace politics as an opportunity to build influence and relationships. Don’t get stuck into thinking that putting your head down and doing good work will be enough, or that politics is for self-serving, self-centered, power-hungry others.
  3. When faced with a political challenge, consider if you can accept the political environment and dynamics, if you can change it in some way, or if you need to leave because you can’t make it work.
  4. If you decide to change things, be strategic about what you want to change, why it needs to be changed, who is involved in making these changes, when and how it would happen, etc.,
  5. Politics is part of the journey of life, so don’t treat political incidents as transactional happenings, rather as relationship and trust-building opportunities.
  6. You are in a stronger political position if you and your team deliver based on the needs of the organization and product. From there, leverage communication and negotiation skills to further your product, team and organizational success, preferably in collaboration with others and in alignment with corporate goals.
  7. Find the win-win in every political challenge, in every M&A opportunity, in every conflict.
  8. As you rise within an organization, you will no longer just represent yourself or your project – you will also represent your team, your product and your organization. Navigating the politics will be as much of your job as delivering the tech project. It will enable your team to have the backing, support and resources in order to do so.
  9. In a tech corporate setting, the politics often centered around the product and lobbying for the resources and influence in order to support the successful delivery of that product. Help your company and team focus on the customer, rather than on personality issues and conflict and personal agendas.
  10. When leading change in a politically charged environment such as an M&A, help leaders remain unbiased, focus on delivering quality products and services, and rise above the gossip, back-stabbing and gripe sessions which can be so debilitating.

You know that you’re good at politics if:

  1. You continue to work with your team to complete projects that benefit the company financially and technologically, focusing on delivering to the needs of the customer.
  2. An expanding body of people come to you requesting advice and support for organizational issues which may not necessarily impact you and your group directly.
  3. You find yourself listening long and deep, and sharing your advice and network to help others solve their problems.
  4. You gain brownie points for helping others, rather than using your authority and power to force something to happen (which actually costs brownie points).
  5. Your sphere of influence expands: you have a growing network which thinks highly of you, and a growing network of stakeholders involved in the work you do.
  6. You get really good at helping people better understand the motivations of others and thinking through their political circumstances.
  7. You remain focused on the bigger picture, the needs of all the other teams and stakeholders. Your team and product may not always win a battle, so focus on the larger picture – with a focus on the needs of the customer.
  8. You remain other-centric – always finding out what others need and find a way to leverage your resources, knowledge and influence to support and help them. Adopting a help-me-help-you attitude will build trust and relationships.
  9. You feel your influence spread in a good way, well beyond the people with whom you directly connect.
  10. You remain true to your morals and values, and ever communicate and negotiate with authenticity.

The bottom-line advice to leaders at all levels is to leverage your influence to remove roadblocks, to build alignment, to move the needle forward. In short, use politics for the good of your team, your people, your product, your company.



Please join us in thanking our panelists for FountainBlue’s August 8 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, as well as our hosts at Cisco.

Facilitator Deb Kaufmann, Deb Kaufmann & Associates, Inc.

Panelist Sondra Bollar, Software Development Director, Oracle

Panelist Ruth Gaube, Vice President and General Counsel, Samsung Information Systems America

Panelist Vijaya Kaza, Senior Director of Engineering, Cisco

Panelist Karen Pieper, Senior Director of Synthesis, Tabula

Panelist Angie Ruan, Head of Retail Engineering, PayPal

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