How to Decode Office Politics for Professional Growth to Lead Authentically

Hello, I’m Nicola Richardson from The People Mentor and in today’s episode of my podcast, I’m talking about office politics. 

Today, I’m going to look at strategies for navigating office politics while maintaining personal and professional integrity. 

So, what is meant by office politics? 

It’s basically those unspoken rules, power structures, and relationships that are behind every interaction in the workplace. 

Everyone wants to work in a collaborative, harmonious environment where they can be open and honest and feel appreciated. 

However, many workplaces are not like this. 

You’ll see people micromanaging and undermining others. There’ll be people taking credit for others’ ideas or hard work. There may be a blame culture, where instead of owning up to their mistakes, people point the finger. Some people will spread rumours and gossip, which damages trust in teams. 

These are only some examples of the negative office politics that I have seen and experienced. I’m sure you could add to the list. 

So what’s behind all of this?

A big factor is jealousy and insecurity. Someone may be threatened by another person’s skills or achievements, so they try to undermine them at every turn. 

Then there’s ambition. Some people may form ‘shadowy alliances’ or manipulate others to further their career and their own agenda. 

And of course, we can’t ignore the fact that in teams made up of very different people with different personalities and perspectives, there are bound to be personal vendettas springing up. Someone with a personal vendetta against someone else might seek to undermine them and damage their reputation within the team. 

You may think that office politics are just par for the course, but when they are negative, they can be really damaging for teams. 

Morale and job satisfaction plummet because of working in a hostile work environment. Workplace tensions can increase stress, and when there is less trust and more conflict in teams it affects team cohesion and collaboration. 

Office politics doesn’t just affect teams, it can challenge your integrity as a leader too. 

It might create conflicts of interest where you find yourself choosing between your own goals and the best interest of your team or the business. 

You may find yourself getting caught up in the manipulation and dishonesty that is going on in the workplace and behaving unethically to further your own agenda or to avoid owning up to a mistake. 

Or you may, either intentionally or inadvertently, show favour to certain people or groups of people. 

And dare I say it?- you as a leader may have created the toxic or negative culture that stirs up office politics. 

To protect and maintain your integrity as a leader from negative office politics, there are some actionable strategies that will help you. 

Your priorities should be demonstrating that you are open and transparent about your motivations and intentions, aligning your actions with your values and with the wider values of the business, and building a healthy workplace culture centred around mutual respect, common goals, and constructive feedback. 

Here are some of my top tips and techniques. 

First, start by building genuine relationships and taking an interest in people rather than using them as a means to an end to get what you want. Taking an interest in people builds trust and makes them feel appreciated, so they are more likely to have your back when you need support, or you are navigating something difficult. 

You can build good relationships by being generous. Offer a listening ear, share your expertise, offer support. What you give out authentically, you’ll get back when it matters. 

Next, you can help mitigate some of the worst of office politics by being the bridge between different people or different teams. Encourage collaboration and collaborate with different people yourself which will help you learn new things. 

The more connected everyone feels and the more you show that you are willing to work with and listen to everyone, the more cohesive the workplace will be. This will also help any accusations of favouritism go out of the window. 

A hugely important way of protecting your integrity in the midst of negative office politics is staying true to your values. This is important because it can be so easy and tempting to fall into gossip and other unprofessional behaviours if you keep the company of those who behave that way. 

Doing the right thing often means doing the hard thing, but ultimately, if you act with integrity and stand by your values, you’ll be more at ease with yourself, and others will respect and trust you more. 

So think about 3 or 4 core values and write them down. Next to each, write a sentence about why that value is important to you and reflect on how you are living out these values in the workplace. 

For example, if you pride yourself on being honest, reflect on how you live that out day-to-day. Maybe you were honest about not knowing the answer to a question that a team member asked you instead of pretending you knew or telling a white lie. Maybe you were honest when you gave negative feedback to a valued team member instead of skirting around it. 

Speaking of values, it’s important that as a leader, you define and support clear cultural values such as:

Putting team success above individual success

Being open and honest and doing what you say you are going to do

Treating everyone with respect

If everyone knows what is expected, it is clearer when people are falling short, and then you can take action to deal with issues before they become a bigger problems. 

What is also important is being transparent. Don’t withhold important information from team members and discuss workplace issues openly. When there are things that need to be dealt with in private, make sure those involved know that what they say is confidential and won’t be discussed with other members of the team. 

If you are transparent, it builds trust, and if people trust you, they are more likely to feel able to express their views and grievances directly to you rather than gossiping, complaining, or backbiting. 

Part of transparency is making sure communication is clear and effective. Decide what form of communication is most suited to your message – not everything should be communicated over email – and be as clear, open, and honest as you can be. This leaves less room for Chinese whispers and the spread of misinformation which can feed into negative office politics. 

And finally, this is such an important thing to maintain your integrity as a leader and cut through the office politics, be impartial at all times. 

Yes, you are human, and at times, you will have ‘favourite’ team members or people who you just simply get on better with. However, you can’t set the standard and expectation that everyone is fair and treats everyone fairly if you don’t do the same. 

As always, as a leader, you set the standard. 

Promote only on merit and when it is deserved. Let someone go only when they aren’t performing, and every avenue for remedying the situation has been exhausted. 

Don’t take anything that a team member says about someone else at face value-put on your detective hat, investigate, and get to the bottom of what the real issues are. 

Only then will you have a more harmonious workplace and a team that is united behind you as a leader with integrity. 

We’ve reached the end of this episode of The People Mentor podcast. I hope you’ve gained some insights and inspiration about navigating office politics while maintaining your integrity as a leader. 

See you next time.

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