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Six ways CIOs or anyone can survive office politics


Joel Dobbs.GIF Joel H. Dobbs is the CEO and President of The Compass Talent Management Group LLC (CTMG), a consulting firm that assists organizations with the identification and development of key talent and with designing organizational strategies and structures to maximize their ability to compete in the business worlds of today and tomorrow. He is also an executive coach and serves as Executive in Residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business.  Joel is also a popular and frequent contributor to the Executive CIO Forum where a version of this article was first published. 



Let’s face it; IT leaders deal with office politics at some point in our career. There is nothing inherently bad – or good --about politics. Good politics are when someone needs to work the system to achieve business objectives. Bad politics are when someone works the same system to make themselves look good, often at the expense of others or the company. 


Let’s take a look at some of the most common bad actors in the world of office politics. (These definitions are adopted from an article on that I highly recommend.)


  • The self-promoter. These folks go out of their way to promote themselves under the auspices of promoting their business.  They frequently use “I” and “me” instead of “we” in conversations, especially with senior management or other influential people. The self-promoter is not beyond claiming credit for the work of others.


  • The manager-upper.  Manager-uppers are masterful at managing their image in the eyes of their superiors. These people typically withhold negative information about their business to their bosses and selectively spin other things for the positive. They tell superiors what they think they want to hear.


One favorite trick is to “spring” things on others in meetings as a way of “getting the upper hand.” By catching colleagues off guard they put them on the defensive and make themselves appear better prepared and informed. I worked with one who was fond of introducing a subject and then saying that he couldn’t discuss it further because it was “highly confidential.”  His intent was to enhance his status as an “insider” by suggesting that he was privy to information others were not.  He wasn’t popular and this tactic ultimately backfired.


  • The kiss-up artist. These people actively network with the key movers and shakers in the company and use every opportunity to tell these them how great they are. They play effectively to the oversized egos of many executives. One thing I quickly learned as I moved into senior management was to take all compliments with the proverbial “grain of salt.”  Beware of people who delight in telling you how great you are.


  • The propagandist.  Propagandists spread disinformation about potential “competitors” in the workplace. They quietly spread rumors and/or misinformation about someone that may threaten them. Their objective is to look good by destroying anyone they perceive as competition.


6 techniques for surviving office politics


So how does one survive in the never-ending world of office politics?  Here are six suggestions.


  1. Don’t paint a target on your back. Make sure that your own organization is in order.  Always focus on doing your job to the best of your ability all the time.  Being faithful at your post, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, is one of the best defenses against attack. If you are not doing your job, plenty of others will be happy to point this out for their own gain.
  2. Check your attitude daily. Stay positive and optimistic. Don’t become critical, negative or cynical. A positive attitude combined with doing your job well is a powerful combination. When you are competent and positive, people tend to not believe negative things said about you.
  3. Refuse to go down to their level.  Misery loves company. Stay above the fray.  Don’t allow yourself to be dragged down to the level of the bad actors in your organization.  Political advisors frequently advise candidates for president to “look presidential” in the face of negative campaign ads.  Acting like a responsible adult while others are behaving childishly can be a powerful asset.
  4. Follow the “Golden Rule.”  When dealing with others, especially difficult people, first ask yourself, “If I were them, what would I want me to do?” 
  5. Look for ways to help others.  Motivational expert Zig Ziglar is fond of telling his audiences, “You can have everything in life you want if you help others get what they want.”  One powerful way to be a positive force in office politics is to actively help others be successful. It is amazing what can be accomplished if you don’t worry about who gets the credit.  Don’t worry, people will notice.
  6. Recognize and deal constructively with genuine pathology. Sometimes we encounter individuals whose actions are the result of underlying psychiatric issues. Personality disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, all of these can lead to destructive behavior in the workplace. Look for ways to help people who need help get it, but don’t attempt to fix this yourself. Talk confidentially with Human Resources or your Employee Assistance Program if you have concerns that a colleague may be ill.


Office politics will always be a part of organizational life.  You can’t control others but you can control yourself. The best way to survive and thrive is to take responsibility your own behavior.


Other guest posts by Joel Dobbs:

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