Dying By the Sword

Poetic justice.  It’s the stuff of films and legends.  We all love to see the killer killed, the con-man conned, and the thief ripped-off.  And this attitude carries over into our careers as well.  Who doesn’t cheer when the embezzler gets arrested, the coaster (finally) gets fired?

Or when the aggressive corporate politician is taken out by another company shark?

We’ve all witnessed it.  We’ve all stood on the sidelines and alternately cheered when the obnoxious political manipulator takes the “walk of shame.”  And I’ll bet we’ve rarely (if ever) felt sorry for them.

When you enter into your employer’s political life, you’re setting yourself up to be on the receiving end of political tactics.  The more vicious the tactics in which you engage, the more likely you are to be on the receiving end of a nasty political ploy (roll images of observers cheering on your aggressor from a safe distance.)

He who lives by the sword, dies by it… right?

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Sitting on the sidelines?

I’ve gone over the classification of political orientations in my white paper “Power and Politics in Corporations” as well as in my book “NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS,” so this is an abbreviated overview.

Many people think (hope?) that they can escape involvement in the politics swirling through their employer’s organizations – and to a degree, they can.  I call these people “Avoiders” because they try to avoid political entanglements and seem to assume that by staying out, the company’s aggressive politicians will leave them alone.

In my experience it’s just a matter of time before they are impacted by some kind of political games-playing.  Politicians see Avoiders as “pawns,” and if a pawn stands between them and something they want, most aggressive politicians won’t hesitate to throw them under the bus.  Avoiders are typically oblivious of the risks until such an incident occurs, and afterward they feel victimized.

I guess they shoulda armed themselves

Political “Neutrals” at least understand what is going on, and are willing to play some form of political “defense.”  They tend to be survivors, flourishing in individual-contributor and lower managerial jobs.  Political power players tend to avoid a well-equipped Neutral, if they can get what they want by rolling over an Avoider.

The ones we like to see “get theirs” are the “Power Players.”  These politicians aggressively use political tactics to get what they want, and often don’t seem at all bothered by how they injure others.  Being a Power Player can definitely help you climb the ladder.  In fact, most of the senior managers and all the CEOs I’ve known fall into this category (some being much more aggressive than others.)

When you join the Power Player ranks, you also have to expect to be targeted.  And if you’re out-maneuvered don’t expect any mourning.  Poetic Justice, after all.

A major Power Player takes a fall

Late in my career, I was ambushed by one of the most adept Power Players I’ve ever come across.  He arranged to embarrass me during a difficult group presentation, and once he had me on the ropes I didn’t get a breather for more than two hours.

I was offended.  I felt wronged.  I was livid and was looking for sympathy and comfort.

I didn’t get any, and I didn’t really expect it.

I was deeply enough into political games-playing that most of the attendees at the meeting probably felt like I was getting what I deserved.  You know the old saying:  Play with fire and you’re likely to get burned.  It was a hard reality to face – being victimized and having the situation seen as “just deserts” – but one that kind of comes with the territory when you engage in politics above the Neutral level.

A year or two later, that particular Power Player made his biggest play to date – he put an ultimatum in front of the CEO.

It was his undoing.  He was engaging in a political ploy with high stakes, and he lost.  Within a few months, he had left the company and was “Pursuing Other Opportunities.”

Other than a few employees that were riding the Power Player’s updraft, there seemed to be little sadness over his departure.  No one threatened to quit if he wasn’t reinstated (nor was there any actual quitting).  In discussions I had with his subordinates, no one seemed upset that he was gone.

They saw it as Poetic Justice.


When you play political games, you are much more likely to become the victim of a political ploy.  When you suffer consequences as a result, you can’t expect people to be outraged or saddened on your behalf.  33.6

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Shown here is the cover of NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS my non-fiction primer on the nature of politics in large corporations, and the management of your career in such an environment.  This is my best-selling book.  Chocked full of practical advice, I've had many managers and executives say they wished they'd read it early in their career.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations