In a work context, the word “politics” usually refers to activities that have little to do with effective operation of business processes or getting product out the door, but a lot to do with the enhancement of an individual’s perceived importance. It can also mean that person A is trying to score political points over person B, or make person B look bad. It can also mean that person C is trying to enlarge his or her sphere of influence or increase the number of subordinates.

You probably have other meanings for the word, depending your experience of politics in the workplace. Whatever meaning you attach to “politics”, none of them will have anything to do with improving the organization, its effectiveness or its products.

Unfortunately, politics can play a role in almost any company. Unfortunately, because such politics are rarely beneficial, and for some bizarre reason, the intensity of the politicking is often in inverse proportion to the importance of the issue. Which brings us to our unspoken rule:

Political advantage is more important than getting useful stuff done

The saddest thing about this perception of politics is that the word Politics has a noble derivation: It was coined by Aristotle to describe a set of admirable skills that enable us to form an ethical and supportive society. Since we now use the word almost exclusively to imply sleaziness, we have no word for what Aristotle called one of the five major branches of Philosophy: Metaphysics, Logic, Ethics, Politics and Aesthetics. I’ve been fortunate in my work life to know admirable politicians in the Aristotelian sense: men and women who designed and implemented marvelous feel-good cultures.

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