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December 2010

My dear friends, colleagues, clients and students:

This issue has a thought-provoking essay on Office Politics: How to Survive and Thrive in Office Politics by Don Sutaria.

I was also pondering over two holiday fables that tell us of the joy that faith brings. Every year we are flooded with many new and existing Christmas movies. But why do two tear-jerkers, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart, and A Christmas Carol (also known as Scrooge, 1951) starring Alastair Sim, stand out? Why do people see them again and again every year?

Experts in human nature tell us that these two movies are essentially mirror images of each other.

In It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, a man in financial trouble because of his large-souled generosity, is forced by an angel to view the consequences of his non-existence: what would've happened if he'd never been born!

In A Christmas Carol, a man grown rich because of heart-shriveling greed is forced by spirits to view the consequences of his existence.

On both sides of the mirror, the results are the same: a revolutionary personal transformation called "metanoia," or "repentance," which translated literally means "a change of mind." Watched carefully, the films are disturbingly realistic. For each person, the change in outlook has absolutely nothing to do with a change in circumstance. And yet, in the aftermath of their visions, both men are joyous.

Bailey and Scrooge, by confronting their mortality, are forced to acknowledge that life is wonderful not because of what happens in it but simply by virtue of being life. Success is measured in love, not money. Joy rises above circumstance. This is what faith promises.

And if you have not recently read the all-time masterpiece Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus, I respectfully suggest you do so. Little Virginia O'Hanlon, eight years of age and perplexed by the question, "Is There a Santa Claus?", put it to the editor of the New York Sun in 1897. This editorial classic from the pen of Francis P. Church answered the question for all time.


Lest we forget, please do not slow down in your job hunt and networking during this holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year; if anything, accelerate your search! Note that other job hunters have temporarily dropped out of the race for two months which gives you a statistical advantage to win or bag your trophy—a desirable job. Contrary to what the world thinks, my opinion, which bears out in practice, is this: Executives in positions with power to hire you are generally traveling less during this period. A holiday spirit prevails, and there is a greater mood of courtesy and charity. Managers have more time to talk with you and are relaxed. Budgets are also being prepared for the upcoming new year, which might enable them to slot you in. The seeds you have sown in November and December may bear fruit in January. You may surprise yourself by being delivered a belated holiday gift—a new job—in the size, style and color you always wanted!

Until we meet again through the magic of e-mail, we want to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving.

Peace! Love! Shalom!

Don Sutaria, MS, IE (Prof.)
Founder, President & Life-Work Coach

  by Don Sutaria

"Success depends on more than just hard work, good luck and good management. Managing internal politics is very important. This aspect of business doesn't get much attention."

—Lynn D. Savage, former head of the First Women's Bank of New York
Easier said than done!


Still that should not prevent us from trying to understand the anatomy of office politics!

I bet when you first saw the title of this essay, your mind was struggling with some or all of the above thoughts. That is natural, normal, healthy and human.

I am not a psychologist but simply an observer of human nature.

Some of us might wonder: Will office politics ever go away? The answer is NO! Now what part of NO don't you understand...N or O! To turn a deaf ear to it is not just to remove yourself from office politics but from the company. How else would you find out, except through this grapevine, what is going on within your company? Besides, if you don't know what is going on around you, no one is going to know you are around.

A few years ago, CBS-TV finally recaptured the top spot in the Nielsen ratings under the leadership of its president, John B. Backe. He was promptly fired by the chairman of the board. "On the basis of performance there seemed to be no reason to fire him," said Newsweek magazine. The backroom speculation was that a philosophical argument with the chairman led to Backe's dismissal.

Well, John Q. and Mary J.! Doing your own job extremely well may not get you promoted; in fact, just the opposite may happen. Like Donald Trump, your boss may say, "You're fired!"

Are you shocked? Backe's firing reflects a common fact of organizational life in this free economy. No one is totally immune at any level, from being fired for unexplained reasons unrelated to job performance. This is plain and simple office politics and personal chemistry factors. The legalism of "Employment at Will" does not make it any easier.

What should you then do? You need a psychopolitical strategy for your career in order to play this game. Politics as defined in most dictionaries has a broad and a narrow meaning. The broad definition covers "the art or science of government." The narrow one implies "artful and often dishonest practices."

Contrary to popular beliefs, political realism is not at odds with integrity. In fact, political realism and effective leadership are based on emotional maturity. Experiences of executives with integrity have shown that most issues of ethics can be resolved fairly by the mature leader without violating his/her conscience. The politically astute also understand that the real unstated goal of a typical company is survival—never to be spoken about.

Politics is simply the story of human relationships. When two or three people are gathered together at the water fountain or the coffee machine, there is a natural caucus. When four people ride in a car-pool, there goes another caucus. I personally believe in the power of positive politics. Try it sometime, because as we sow, so we reap. In vernacular, "what goes around, comes around!" It never fails over an extended period of time.

One of the cardinal sacred rules in office politics is gratitude. Become known as a person who pays back. Another principle is to control your own politics instead of letting politics control you. For example, give "gifts", which are sometimes even more difficult to part with than real money. Experts tell us that "legitimate bribery" with the eight gifts stated here, work wonders in visible and invisible "diplomacy," nay "office politics." These are:
  • The Gift of Praise
  • The Gift of Service
  • The Gift of Attention
  • The Gift of Inspiration
  • The Gift of Concession
  • The Gift of Consideration
  • The Gift of Gratitude
  • The Gift of Your Physical Presence
Playing positive politics is easier than you think. It benefits that individual and the people around that person. The four simple and elegant guidelines are:
  1. Talk about your work in a positive, interesting and constructive way.
  2. Say something appreciative about your supervisor, subordinates, peers and company.
  3. Keep performing a high quality, high volume job.
  4. Help people around you, socialize at work and form business friendships.
Try this formula for thirty days and literally astonish yourself!

...political realism is not at odds with integrity.
Over the years, people have been admonished to stay out of office politics or their head will be handed to them on a platter. It is negative politics or "gutter politics" which brings down group productivity and destroys personal relationships.

The late great Speaker of the House of Representatives and Irish-American Tip O'Neil once stated that "All politics are local." How true that is! Tip was a consummate politician who believed in what he did and practiced what he preached. He was a very successful leader who became popular among his constituents because he listened to them. He would walk in the streets and talk to the working person and listened to what they had to say and to what they needed. Then he turned around and made it his policy and very rarely alienated those people who elected him because he represented their voices.

However, many of us must have formed an opinion of what a "politician" is in public life or in a work setting based on the 1972 movie, The Candidate, with Robert Redford. You may recall that Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is an idealistic young lawyer and son of a famous governor who is pressured into running for the United States Senate against the popular incumbent, with the assurance that he will lose and not have to give up his integrity or ideals. However, as the campaign deepens, he finds himself giving in and allowing himself to be manipulated as the polls slowly change and swing in his favor. Soon his backers decide that they want him to win after all. By the time Election Day arrives, McKay has become the exact person that he used to speak so vehemently against.

It is a well-documented fact that more than 80% of people lose their jobs not because they are technically incompetent, but because of their failure to recognize the pitfalls inherent in organizations. Also, if a person reaches the top, he/she is not going to tell you how they got there.

People who operate successfully are skilled politically. Political skills are essentially leadership skills which can be learned. The sad scenario is that good performers who lack political skills find their prestige declining and therefore they do the only logical thing they know: They work harder instead of smarter which hastens their decline, possibly even leading to the loss of their job. Political skills or interpersonal skills are like lubrication in an organization, leading it to function smoothly.

Playing positive politics is easier than you think.
Skilled managers have some wonderful political tools at their command and they know how to use them wisely and well—when to talk, when to listen, when to put it in writing.

"Leave Him With A Smile" is another popular admonition to be taken very seriously by employers and employees. If you are leaving your job for a better one, human nature tempts you to tell your old employer what you think of him and his company. Bite your lip; control your tongue! Don't do it! Leave him with a smile. It is a very difficult thing to do and understandably so. Don't burn the bridges behind you. You may need to come back to the old place. Be loyal to your firm even after you leave it. Always speak well of your old employer and your old firm. To speak of them in bitter terms is merely to condemn yourself, and to have people judge you meanly. To boost them is to boost yourself. The reciprocal responsibility also lies with the employer.

Robert Bell, author of You Can Win at Office Politics, sums up a few key Political Do's and Dont's:

  • Look at the downside of linking up with powerful factions.
  • Let friends offer advice about political problems.
  • Speak up to your boss if it means keeping peer respect.
  • Discern what your boss wants in return for a raise or promotion.
  • Establish your walkaway point and stick to it.
  • Admit your mistakes before the boss discovers them himself.
  • Assume your boss always has your best interests at heart.
  • Get involved in a showdown if you are pretty sure to lose.
  • Try to imitate the social graces of a smooth rival.
  • Accept blindly anyone's claim that he is the boss' friend.
  • Talk about things you are not officially supposed to know.
  • Respond in kind to smear campaigns because they can backfire.
  • Be a corporate loner. You do need friends to get ahead.

"If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only one half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent, and learns somehow to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded, and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men ever know."
—Thomas Wolfe

Don Sutaria, also known as "Career Doctor Don", is Founder and President of CareerQuest. He has been quoted frequently in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, on radio and television and has taught at various colleges. He is the author of Career And Life Counseling From The Heart (Your Career is a Pathway to Your Soul!).

Don Sutaria, M.S., I.E. (Prof.)   
Phone: (908) 686-8400     Fax: (908) 686-8400 (on request)     Cell: (908) 377-9015   
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