#35 Trapped by politics and yearning to show your potential at work

Deepa Natarajan


Are you trapped by Politics? Are you yearning to show your potential at work? Learn 3 key tips to survive politics in an organisation?

Michael Jarrett, Professor of Management Practice in Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD says that

“Organisational politics refers to a variety of activities associated with the use of influence tactics to improve personal or organisational interests.”


What I found from interviewing people in organisations is that the ones who succeed on organisational goals and personal goals are the ones who follow these 3 principles:


Principle 1: Accept that politics is normal

That’s right accept that Politics will exist – no matter the size of the organisation. Yes its hard to get rid of politics and to do that requires everyone in the organization to get on a development path. Work on their on their gaps in a systemic way exposing oneself in a vulnerable way.


What I noticed consistently is that when we don’t work on our insecurities and worry about playing safe and looking good, Politics finds it breeding ground.

Politics can be positive if used to get past complexity of structure and roles to meet organizational goals. At the end of the day an organization is present with people to produce results. How people are structured and how people co-ordinate in an organization to meet those goals are sometimes not simple.

So politics can help cut past complexity when used with a good intension.

Pitfall: Fighting hard to isolate oneself from Politics takes away career growth.

When there is politics at the top, and we try to fight hard to isolate ourselves from it; it impacts our career. This impact varies from choosing a technical path, deciding to play a small management role or come to terms with perineal work frustration. This isolation leads to a lack of confidence as high performers have insights and feel completely undervalued at work! It’s a paradoxical deadlock of feeling competent and yet under-valued!

Principle 2: Have a bit of Political skills

That is understand the landscape of players. There are many articles on the internet on identifying different political players and tactics to deal with them. I’m not going into those tactics in this article for the sake of playing a bigger game. A bigger game for me would be an ideal organization that Dr Robert Kegan Professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development at the Harvard University describes in his book Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization (DDO). In a DDO people are not paid to do a double job.

Kegan says most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for. Most people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties and hiding their limitations.

When we are not in a DDO and political game are present we need to know how to wade through the storm of politics while remaining in INTEGRITY with ourselves.

The amount of energy is spent on – looking good, hiding mistakes means that we are not developing ourselves. Employers pay full time for a part time job. Kegan says it’s a ridiculous bargain.

When we are focused on covering up actual weakness we lose opportunities to grow and learn.

So, having political skills to survive means, knowing when to step back on the fight for power and position because the storm of politics is too strong. This might mean going away on a job that is not sought after by people who search for power, budget and money. Come back with a success story in 2 years. I.e. Go create a small viral change in new place.

Or standing strong with courage in the face of strong politics and calling forth people. Knowing that you are at a complete risk of getting a blame badge that might lead to you even getting fired!


Pitfall: Stepping into dirty games against our INTEGRITY takes away our mental and physical wellbeing.

Political stress is another form of stress. Stress impact of this varies from waking up at 3am running scenarios in our head, getting irritated at home to having stunts in the heart!

Speculating which television channel in our brain is understanding the political scenarios is loss of mental energy!

Step 3: Accept that you don’t master everything


The ability to give your best shot and let go of mastering the game is what allows successful individuals to better manage stress and the complexity of business. Learning to let go, learning that we can’t control the outcomes no matter how much we plan and how much we do is key to holding the goals lightly in pursuit of excellent. Goals and targets will happen automatically when we focus on playing our bigger purpose.


Pitfall:Our attachment to results leads us to act with more CONTROL and takes us away from our journey of excellence.

When we believe strongly that winning is important we become attached to results. When we have a hard focus on results, the impact of a small finger pointing can hurt our ego and lead us to raise the volume of our internal critique, blaming others, defending oneself and sometimes get into a rabbit hole!


In a organization which is not on the path of a deliberately development organization (DDO) my findings leads me to believe that the following 3 elements are key to finding peace in a political workplace!


  1. Accept that politics is normal
  2. Have a bit of Political skills
  3. Accept that you don’t master everything


Politics, pressure and winning at all costs can lead us to become reactive and lead us to act from our insecurities and fear.


My 2 recommendations:


  1. Connecting with our higher purpose and asking oneself constantly: What is my real purpose ? Allows us to dig deeper into our pursuit, our deep motivations and brings meaning into our actions.
  2. Staying with our fear holds a magnificent gift for us. In the darkness of fear there is sadness, disappointment and in that darkness we can see the stars and find the key to get on the pursuit of our higher purpose. So, holding the question: Where am I wrong? Allows us to find the key to scale our leadership!

I’d love to hear your comments, your experiences and support you to go past turbulent political times.

Make effective change with Rethink Leadership Methodology

Samskara Dec 2021 Issue #08

Subscribe to the Samskara magazine

This is how Deepa can help

Your Leadership

Your Team Leadership

Your Organization