The Politics of Management

Politics in organisations is an ever present reality.  No matter who you are, or what you do, it is impossible to escape the power/political interactions that take place between people at work.

Men and women say they find the politics in organisations distasteful, sometimes downright stressful.  Politics can, however, be quite motivating, stimulating and exhilarating.  Politics doesn’t arise for negative reasons, but for powerful and all-pervading organisational and personal reasons.  Once people come to terms with these factors, it’s possible to become more effective at managing politics.

Though this is the time of large companies, you need political flair in small ones – to deal with suppliers and customers, for instance.

Simply doing a good job is not sufficient.  Professional competence is only the first step.  High office achieved quickly requires negotiating skills, an ability to look ahead, the determination to make projects work and the ability to get on with people.

Many people spend much of their time managing conflict, competition and the formation of alliances as an everyday part of their workload.  There are frictions and difficulties that arise between top management, who are involved with strategic change, and middle management who are concerned with making the existing systems work.

Understanding the people who play the politics

To understand the processes of politics, it is necessary to understand the people who play in the political arena.

A number of well known psychologists and philosophers have come to similar conclusions as to why people develop particular personalities.  They concluded:

*          By using their experiences from the past, people learn how to cope with the world around them.

*          Although this learning process is never ending, people, quite naturally, reject the more unsuccessful ways of coping.

*          After a while, people develop a repertoire of thoughts, feelings, behaviours and skills which is their best way of coping with their world.

*          The more successful the repertoire, the more fixed it becomes, the more people develop and form their personality.

The behavioural scientist, Erving Goffman, called this repertoire frames of reference,  a now commonly used phrase to indicate how an individual subjectively interprets the world around him.  Other writers on psychology and philosophy suggest that we all structure our experiences to form a map (like a geographical map) which shows boundaries, hills, mountains, valleys, difficult routes and easy routes to follow.  Just as we would use a geographical map to find the easiest or most difficult routes to follow, so we use a mental map to drive our behaviour.

How then are mental maps and the politics of management related?  The hypothesis offered is that politics constitutes an influence process which can be perceived as positive or negative, depending on whether one’s own mental map is being supported or threatened.

Let us explore further this notion of a mental map being supported or threatened.  Many managers have said:

I get on fine with my subordinates.  It is just that my boss keeps on interfering with everything I do.  I am getting sick of him.

In many people’s minds, there seems to be a split between legitimate and illegitimate attempts at influence.  In dealing downwards with subordinates, the manager feels comfortable.  Managers seem to influence downwards on the basis of their knowledge of particular individuals and groups.

A good manager is one whose subordinates state:

‘My boss knows how to handle me!’

The good manager is someone who helps subordinates feel comfortable.

Yet, in managing upwards, so many middle managers seem to use a different approach.  They are so used to leading downwards that they forget that relations upwards are also a mutual dependence process.  So many managers seem to stereotype people in a top -down way so that their mental map is not sufficiently flexible to cope with upward influence.  They forget that bosses are people.  The boss is no longer a person but a stereotype in the person’s mind.  Should the boss do something to break the stereotype, then the individual believes that politics is being played.  Note that under such circumstances, politics is linked with negative influence.

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