Perhaps the reality of existence of politics in business, commerce and industry, is accepted by all. The prevalence of corporate politics is also a given thing. Says, Chris Clayton, that politics is derived from two words- poly, meaning many, and tics meaning small blood sucking insects. To add spice to this description of politics is Henry Adams view, “knowledge of human nature is the beginning of political education”. In politics of any type, because it relates and involves humans, there will exist between two individuals, always three parties; one party being each of the two individually; and together they make the third. And, it should be no reason of wonder to discover that the three parties have different manifestations, priorities, motives and manifestos. That’s human nature.
Corporate politicians are leaders who stand in awe and administration of political leaders- they follow the politicians of the political world. So corporates have demagogues, the mis-leaders, the mud slingers, the backbiters and all other species from the world of politics. Corporates polish the political animal and conversely unleash too, such individuals upon the political environment. They excel in leading the leader up the garden path: and specialise on how to conceal the vital and share the obvious. Misdirecting positive energy is their unique forte. A former prime minister pulled from the corporate sector is a case in point.
Politics is a divorcee - divorced from truth. Those who possess no skill, talent or ability take to corporate politics with ease.
Is it bad to have corporate politics? Is the equation between politics and corporate politics different? Nay, it is not distinct. It is the same power game and its quest. How to obtain power, either judiciously and in fairness or seek it by intrigue, or by force, to create instability. There are prominent politicians and there are insignificant ones; similarly there are corporate politicians, who are exported to the realm of real politics, whereas prime ministers, they impose their inadequate and limited vision upon the country, to its ultimate peril.
To be a good corporate politician it may be necessary to be wealthy and loaded with meanness of human nature. Without politics whether it be in the universe of politics, or the corporate environment or even within families, life would be so dull and boring; it would lead to being a hermit, than being part of any social group. If there is avoidance to indulge in politics, it will be good to note, that politics and its aftermath would not leave anyone safe and above. Politics is so magnetic, it pulls people for indulgence, in it.
Can corporate politics be “dirty” also? Indeed, yes. The dirty politicians thrive on the basis of real or perceived inadequacies of the opponents. They exploit vulnerabilities of others; it is not about being good, it is all about others not being good. Ethics and politics do not make great friends - they remain adversaries, the fieriest in competition, and foes in perpetuity. I had a colleague who once said to me, “I have hired Mr ‘x’ to create fear, trouble and harass a few members of the senior management----hired for harassing!” That's human meanness.
Politics is not but may involve, acquisition of power through diabolical intrigue, devious machincations, abdication of responsibility, boot polishing, demonstration of an ability on how difficult it is to say, ‘no’ to supervisors, based on the premise that supervisors are good, infallible and talented (?). Nothing said by the manager is to be ever refuted in private or public. Total and blind allegiance to the manager is a prerequisite to initiate and make success of corporate political careers. Politics, in an entity is all about power. It is derived either through legal means under the charter of various codes of governance standards, that are given to individuals by the virtue of the office held or their ranking on the corporate hierarchy. Those vested with executive powers have to develop a vision and implement a direction for the organisation. No CEO can be successful without the active support of the senior management. The CEO is undone, never or rarely by market conditions, he or she is mostly shown the door by persuasive conviction on hear-say; and the connivance between vested groups, through ‘Chinese whispers’, that one lets loose, with or without any foundation, to the ever lentable ears of either the board or the entrepreneurs. ‘Where there is whispering, there is lying’. Leaders, do a lot of politics - the nature of which is not self infliction of hurt to ownself or the organisation, but is used by the leader to keep at bay the negative fallout of fierce politics between his teammates. This type of corporate politician is less harmful and damaging. But the politics of the top management is far more lethal. It deeply hurts at the fabric of the organisation, because to run-down each other, they attack the abilities that are critical to the growth of an organisation. Politics is done, where it hurts most. Since politics is so dynamically dishonest, even the dishonest get hurt.
Some organisations witness intense politics; while in most it is subdued at the entry level, but can be viciously damaging when found at senior level. Real politics keeps simmering and shows its ugly face, when containing its growing tentacles becomes a challenge and difficulty for managers to handle.
George Bush (Sr) said, “Now, I am no longer President, I find I no longer win every game of golf I play”. Nepotism is a major contributor to the promotion of corporate politics. The kith and kin, ranging from offspring, siblings, to wife's cousins and from the horde of extended family are hired to do espionage on colleagues. They are a pain.
Their unwritten Job description is despicable. These are required to do spying and doing things superstitiously to undo senior colleagues, who are perceived to be a challenge to the “corporate emperor” or to his minions. For these type of colleagues, it will be noticed that the supervisor has all the time.
Politics through the medium of networking is about giving sophistication to the dirty nature of the job. Many find ways of getting closer to the power centres of the organisation, by either joining the same social club, some take to playing the sport, the boss engages in, like golf, cricket, etc; they start to visit restaurants that are frequented by the manager or other senior position holders. These type of opportunists make sure that they always remain visible and under spotlight.
The intention to network is to self-serve. Leaders are susceptible to apple polishing and boot licking by followers; forgetting most foolishly that they are being ‘networked upon’ due to ‘position held’; ‘office occupied’; devoid of these apron stings, leaders would find, that this specie, if you insist to call humans, are the first to take a flight to the new occupant. Time servers add to the blossoming of corporate politics.
Most managers forget that, ‘who chatters to you, will chatter of you’. Corporate politics requires a special talent in deceit. Speaking truth doesn't help a liar. Bad tongue and wicked ears have eternal love between them. Watch out!
The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist