Organizational Politics and Its Impact on Leadership
Vigoda (2000) defines organizational politics as a behavior that strategically maximizes one's self-interests at the expense of the interests of others, and the needs of the greater organization. This view portrays organizational politics as something negative; something detrimental to the well-being of the organization. Gull and Zaidi (2012), however, hold a slightly different view. They define organizational politics as "an activity that permits people in an organization to accomplish goals without going through proper channels;" however, they also emphasize that whether or not politicking harms an organization depends solely on the degree of alignment between the goals of the individual, and those of the organization (p. 156). The wide array of definitions "suggests that the concept is in transition and under continuous debate" (Drory & Vigoda-Gadot, 2010, p. 195). This text takes on the latter perspective, with the author regarding organizational politics as neither good nor bad per se, but reckoning that it is prudent that managers and leaders learn to identify, and distinguish between unethical and ethical politicking within their organizations. This is the surest way to avoid the prospect of becoming immersed in retrogressive power struggles, parochial politics, and bureaucratic infighting, all of which greatly impede on organizational performance, morale, innovation, and initiative.
The Background of Organizational Politics
Organizational politics is no new concept, and as Sonaike (2013) points out, "it is self-deceit to believe that one's organization has no politics" (p. 197). Politicking takes on different forms and occurs at literally all levels of the organization. However, despite the fact that it is a noticeably common phenomenon, the concept of organizational politics has largely remained underground. Thanks to the negativity that has, since long in history, been attached to organizational politics; people often avoid relating their own behavior to politics, and only talk about politics when they lose to a colleague (Sonaike, 2013). Most organizations actually consider politics a taboo subject, and prefer to keep it buried underground.
I am of the view that an effective leader is one who skillfully uses organizational politics to obtain, and retain power, as well as realize fundamental goals. To this end, it is reckless and dangerous to fantasize that one can be an effective leader without effectively addressing, and making use of ethical politics. The prominent Greek statesman, Pericles, once said that politics will take interest in an individual, whether or not they take interest in it. We therefore cannot simply close our eyes to this crucial aspect of organizational reality.
Why People Engage in Workplace Politics
The main reason as to why people engage in organizational politics is to gain power. This power could come through promotion, being considered for desirable / coveted assignments, receiving larger budgetary allocations, among others (Ogungbamila, 2013). The more common self-serving behaviors include lobbying influential managers just before a promotion is made, and bypassing the chain of command to obtain approval for a special proposal (Ogungbamila, 2013). Such actions undermine fairness, and may spark feelings of resentment and jealousy in those colleagues who follow proper mechanisms. On a lighter note, however, such actions could at times be beneficial rather than detrimental. We can imagine, for instance, a case where the proposal in question is so urgent that going through the proper procedure would cause delays, and make the organization lose its number one investor. In this particular instance, politics gets to benefit the greater organization. In the end, therefore, it boils down to the degree of congruence between individual and organizational goals.
Factors Contributing to Workplace Politics
The antecedents of organizational politics can be categorized into two; individual antecedents and organizational antecedents (Gull & Zaidi, 2012). Individual factors are largely driven by personality clashes, and are often shaped by differences, grudges, or conflicts that others consider long-settled (Gull & Zaidi, 2012). Organizational antecedents, on the other hand, include those aspects of organizational structure that breed politics (Gull & Zaidi, 2012). A number of these individual and organizational antecedents have been outlined below.
Pyramid-Shaped Organizational structure: this kind of structure concentrates power at the top, leaving less power to be distributed among the lower layers which have more people (Gull & Zaidi, 2012). Each layer has less power than the one directly above it, with the people at the lowest level having virtually no power at all. Most organizations today have flat structures, which imply fewer layers, and more intense competition for power.
Emotional Insecurity: some people would behave politically either because they lack confidence in their abilities and skills and consider ingratiating with seniors the only way to earn favors; or because they have heavily invested in the organization emotionally or financially, and cannot afford to take its fate to chance (Gull & Zaidi, 2012).
Scarcity of Resources and Subjective Performance Evaluation: resources such as promotions and monetary incentives are scarce, and are therefore, only advanced to the 'best' performers. At times, people resort to political maneuvers and impression management because they either believe their organization lacks effective mechanisms for judging and rewarding performance, or they do not think they stand a chance to be selected (Gull & Zaidi, 2012). On the same note, leaders and managers could resort to favoritism if the organization lacks a clear-cut methodology for performance appraisal (Gull & Zaidi, 2012).
Environmental Turbulence and Uncertainty: competitive, unpredictable work environments breed political behavior; people use politics to impress, because uncertainty brings about role ambiguity and makes it difficult for one to determine what exactly they are supposed to be accomplishing (Gull & Zaidi, 2012). The insecurity, turbulence, ambiguity, and uncertainty created by downsizing and corporate mergers contribute significantly to workplace politics (Gull & Zaidi, 2012).
Democratic Decision-Making: democratic decision-making implies that there are more people to be consulted for input and ideas, and, consequently, more people to be influenced. Such processes would often give rise to diverse views and disagreements over what exactly needs to be done (Gull & Zaidi, 2012). Such disagreements impede on rational decision-making and make political maneuvers inevitable, especially if key executives do not share strong goals and strategy (Gull & Zaidi, 2012).
The Effect of Organizational Politics on Leadership
Like I mentioned elsewhere in this text, an effective leader is one who skillfully uses ethical organizational politics to obtain, and retain power, as well as realize fundamental goals. To this end, one cannot be an effective leader if they cannot effectively address, and make use of ethical politics. There are a number of ethical and unethical strategies and tactics, from which a leader can choose. A leader could assess the ethical standard of a strategy by answering six core questions; is this strategy right? Is it fair? How does it smell? Who gets hurt if this strategy is adopted (the fewer the better)? What would you advise your son or daughter to do in such circumstances? Would it be okay with you if details of your undertakings were disclosed?
The leadership strategies outlined in this paper are threefold; i) leadership strategies focused on power acquisition; ii) leadership strategies focused on the enhancement of relationships; and iii) leadership strategies focused on aversion or avoidance of political blunders (adopted and modified from Sonaike, 2013).
Leadership Strategies Aimed at Gaining Power: amassing power is one sure way of achieving success. In this regard, a leader should strive to i) develop power relationships and contacts, who can adequately offer support for one's ideas in public forums or meetings; ii) stay abreast and informed, and be ahead of any developments. A politically astute leader develops an information network with his employees, and especially befriends those members whom people would normally consider 'junior'. For instance, administrative assistants interact more often with other employees, and may be a better source of needs-related information than a middle-level manager. Thirdly, an effective leader should strive to gain adequate control over vital information. Power befalls those who hold vital information. An effective leader has knowledge on, for instance, exactly whom to contact to shorten some lengthy contractual procedures.
Leadership Strategies Aimed at Building Relationships: these assist a leader in building strong networks with suppliers, customers, lower-ranking people, subordinates, and superiors. They include displaying loyalty and courtesy, for instance, by sending thank you and appreciation notes; employing rational persuasion; consulting and seeking others' advice when necessary; providing favors so as to establish a balance that could be drawn on when a favor is needed in return; developing coalitions to consolidate power; engaging in sincere, sensible flattery when giving positive feedback; and engaging in positive impression management.
Leadership Strategies Aimed at Avoiding Political Blunders: political blunders are an impediment to power-retention. Some of the common blunders that managers ought to refrain from include; i) turning down an offer from a superior -- this could be costly, especially if done frequently. It is crucial for one to balance their individual interests against the blunder of repeatedly turning down a powerful figure's requests. The reason most professionals turn down promotion offers that involve geographic relocation is; to them, lifestyle and family preferences are…