Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on July 21, 2015
We have all worked at companies where employees have initiated rumors, spread innuendo or play office politics in a negative manner to advance their personal agenda at the expense of their co-workers. This behavior adversely effects working relationships and inhibits the effectiveness of the organization.
Trust is a critical component of all high-performing organizations. When trust is high among employees, organizations are able to face the brutal facts of their company’s reality in an open manner. Solutions to complex problems are found. When co-workers don’t trust each other or feel they are under personal attack, the process of problem solving breaks down. It takes time to build trust. It can be destroyed quickly, and can never be completely restored.
Why do some employees behave in such a negative manner? They see the world as a zero-sum game, a world of scarcity and not abundance. They are insecure. Perhaps they are mediocre performers. Their mindset tells them the way to advance at their company is at the expense of others. They may be jealous of those who are advancing more rapidly than they are, and rather than improve their own personal performance, they try to drag others down. They don’t take personal responsibility if things don’t go well, and they blame others for their own failures. In my experience, these types of people eventually fail. The organization will raise its defense mechanisms and ensure that they are not successful playing their political game.
For those pursuing a personal agenda to the detriment of others, you can instead take a path that will help you succeed. Pursue a personal agenda that is supportive of your co-workers. When you are supportive of them, they will be supportive of you. When you take the mantle of leadership on a specific issue, they will follow you and support your efforts.
If a co-worker play negative politics at your expense – just do your job. Let your results speak for themselves. Build political capital and alliances with those of like mind that will watch out for your interests, and do the same for them. Much of the work within organizations gets done by the informal organization. Become part of that informal organization, which will help you get things done. You might find an effective way to deal with an individual playing the game of negative politics. Depending on the circumstances and the relative balance of political capital, you may decide to challenge the individual and put them on notice that they have more to lose than you if they continue.
Leaders play a crucial role in nurturing an effective organization. On occasion, a leader may reach a conclusion or make a decision based on input from a single person, and not talk to all individuals involved, and therefore fail to get a complete picture of the situation. An individual speaking negatively about others may be attempting to advance their personal agenda. Leaders, listen for understanding, but do to not take sides until you speak with all parties. You can then make an informed judgment and decision – with all information in hand.
When reviewing the performance of your direct reports, be sure to collect data on the degree to which they are trusted by their co-workers, in addition to the results that they accomplish. Employees who are not trusted adversely impact the effectiveness of your organization and you will eventually part company with them. And remember – always listen to both sides before reaching a conclusion or making a decision. It will make you a more effective leader, and help improve the performance of your company.
Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com