Can Power and Politics be ever good?

Power and politics have always been a mystery to me. I have seen few people do it well,  but like anything interpersonal, it is hard to learn and master. I recently attended a workshop by Lisa DiTullio on the subject that helped me understand it and it get few tips on how it can be good when done for the greater good rather than for personal gains.

Let us start with politics. Politics has negative connotations because we often hear about situations in which people use it for their personal gains or to win rather than for the greater good of the company or the group they represent. At the most basic level, politics is about understanding the differences of opinions of various parties involved and aligning them towards the common goal. This alignment is critical to any change initiative or an initiative where a diverse group of people have to work together. The person who makes this possible (often called a political animal) has the social skills to:

  • Intuitively read people and their perspective
  • Position the goal or objective to their context
  • Influence people in aligning towards the common goal
  • Understand the games being played

When you see someone good in politics, it almost feels like that person is a chameleon or does not have his or her own opinion and gets influenced by others too easily. Key is to find the right balance between providing some flexibility to interpret goals in the context of the other person while staying firm on key aspects of the goal.

There are seven types of games that can be played. It is important to be able to recognize when someone plays these games or if others will perceive you to be playing these games.

  1. Resist and Revolution game – This involves bucking the established system. You can use this to establish leadership, get some new ideas into the system and break the status-quo. It can be perceived as negative if it is used just for arguing against the existing system without any concrete proposal.
  2. Smash the revolution – As the name suggests, this can be effective if used to remove the trouble makers in the way but can create the perception of heavy handed management.
  3. Favouritism – This involves favoring people you are most familiar with or have good relationships with. It can help in expediting work but can create resentment and be divisive to the team.
  4. King of the Castle – This involves building your powerbase based on resources such as budgets, staff, functions, etc.
  5. Gang Game – This happens when you have more than one king of the castle.
  6. Knowledge and skill Game – Played my experts who use mystery of the their skills and knowledge to hold power over others
  7. Promotion and position game – This involves bringing in candidates to bolster your power and position.

Power is the ability, to mobilize resources, to get things done. The true sign of power is accomplishment. It is about perception – of our own and others. If you and others perceive you as powerful, you can get things done.

Sources of power are:

  1. Authority – based on position
  2. Expert – person possessing knowledge and skills
  3. Resource – ability to supply/withhold resources
  4. Interpersonal – working with others
  5. Networks – associating with others that are powerful

It is important to periodically assess others’ perception of your power and work on improving it.

This seminar provided a good framework to analyze critical situations in personal and professional life as well as assess and improve your and other’s perceptions.


About balmahale

Bal Mahale is a Senior Director and Agile Scrum Coach at CA Technologies working in the office of the CTO on the SaaS Operating Platform to help create applications in the Cloud. He has spearheaded several strategic enterprise initiatives for CA's global product development organization such as enterprise wide rollout of Agile Scrum and coaching teams in adopting Agile Scrum to promote innovation. Prior to CA Technologies, Bal was Director of Product Development at Workscape, where he oversaw the development and deployment of an enterprise software product in a "Software as a Service" (SaaS) environment. Earlier in his career, Bal was a Client Partner at Razorfish and Associate Director at Cambridge Technology Partners where he played various roles in strategy, sales, project management, and architecture in the Management, Internet and Software Consulting environments. Bal has MBA from Babson and MS from IIT, Madras. Bal has a passion for marketing, strategy, innovation and enjoys the outdoors, hiking, biking, running.
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One Response to Can Power and Politics be ever good?

  1. Kedar A. Risbud says:

    Very nice write-up.

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