Chapter 16. Power and politics

Anytime you try to organize people to do anything, whether it’s throw a party or start a company, there are different attitudes, desires, and skills among the individuals involved. This means no matter how talented a leader is at running a project, there will be people who do not receive everything they want. Thus, there is a natural instinct for motivated and ambitious people to try and get what they want by influencing people who have the power to make it happen. This, in the simplest explanation I could fit in a paragraph, explains why politics exist. It’s a by-product of human nature in group interactions that we experience the frustration and challenges of political situations. Aristotle said that “man is a political being,” and this is in part what he meant.

“Every management act is a political act. By this I mean that every management act in some way redistributes or reinforces power.”

—Richard Farson, Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership

The fuel that drives politics is power. Roughly defined, power is the ability a person has to influence or control others. While we tend to look at organizational hierarchies to understand who is powerful and who isn’t, often power structures do not directly match hierarchies (as described in Chapter 12, earned power is different from granted power). A person who can persuade the right people at the right time, and apply her knowledge to resolve situations to everyone’s satisfaction, ...

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