Originally published 9/25/10

I've talked a lot about the political environment in corporations. Now I'd like to direct my attention to the three approaches people take in addressing themselves to it. I call the three types: Avoiders, Neutrals, and Power Players. Another way to think of them are -- those that ignore the political environment; those that recognize it, but fined some of the commonly practiced tactics morally or otherwise repugnant and won't engage in them; and those who will do just about anything that works.

Just like any classification scheme, it's an abstraction, and every grade in between these three probably exists.

As my subject for tonight is Avoiders, let's talk about them...

Avoiders either aren't aware of the political environment, or they're in denial about what their senses reveal to them, or they hate politics so much that they aren't willing to participate regardless. I'll talk about each in turn.

Aren't aware of the political environment -- these would typically either be people that operate with so little human interaction that they don't get enough data about what is going on in the organization to see the political landscape, or perhaps those people that have very low emotional intelligence (there are great sources out there to explain this concept, if you are unfamiliar). They are likely to make huge and very obvious mistakes that will leave other corporate employees scratching their heads at times.

In denial -- some people, despite their emotional intelligence, pretend that there is no politicking going on in the organization. I'm not sure why this happens, but I've seen it a few times in the past. It almost seems their image of other people in the organization is so out of alignment with the political behavior going on that they can't square the two up. Something has to give, and it ends up being the political reality.

Hate politics -- this is more of a moralistic position. Most of the situations where I've seen this, the argument is to eschew politics essentially because they are "unfair" or "undemocratic". I've seen this more with young people, but it does seem to show up some across the entire employee spectrum. Let me give an example -- "Son, nobody is going to take you serious in the corporate world with that tongue piercing and facial tattoo," said the father. "That's just stupid, unfair and wrong!" says the son. The point is, the avoider's dislike of the political reality doesn't change a thing. It still is what it is, with their participation or not.

A variant of this last group is the rather sizable group that believes that only performance should matter in progression and reward within corporations, and politics and the skillful playing of politics shouldn't be a factor. Just like the above example -- their faith in performance as the only basis for judgement about a person is misplaced, and doesn't change a thing, no matter how "unfair" it may seem.

The advice I've offered to Avoiders in the past is: work for a small company, start your own business, or be satisfied with not climbing above the first couple or rungs of the corporate ladder. Is if fair? No. Is it reality? In most cases, yes.