All men are created equal but born unequal, hence the battle for supremacy. Wherever you have two or more people co-existing, politics thrives. Playing the game of office politics is inevitable and anyone who neglects office politics will be making incalculable mistakes. Office politics is simply the use of one’s assigned power in the workplace for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one’s legitimate authority, with a view to influencing the behaviour of others. It is all about manipulations which occur in any relationship where parties adopt indirect means to achieve their personal goals.
I worked as Secretary to a top Executive a few years ago where, due to business expansion to francophone countries, the management thought it necessary to employ a PA who majored in French to help in translations. All the job functions given to the PA were not new to me except that I don’t speak French. The PA assumed his position and I welcomed him warmly, but within days I discovered that he was not cut out for the job for reasons besides his training deficiencies. Rather than take his time to understand the system, he took to office politics. He was more interested in taking control of the office and lording it over everyone, even with our clearly defined job descriptions. By virtue of my training, I never responded but remained calm. Having X-rayed his capabilities, I did all that was expected of me and was always willing to offer him assistance whenever I thought he was getting it wrong, but he never took the advice. Unnecessary conflict ensued, he began painting me black and thrice he reported me to our Head of HR – each time he did, I found out. At that point, I decided to let him be. It did not take long before his deficiencies were discovered, he was found incapable of working as a PA and I was immediately promoted. That threw him off balance. He made many more costly mistakes which led to his inglorious exit. Contrary to his expectations, he was asked to resign. He cried out of shock!
I am confident that if my friend were a trained Legal PA, the story would surely have been different because his character would have been refined! Character is what you are in the dark. What you are in the dark is determined only by the stuff you are made of – professional training. This is where we (products of ILSPA) are on the cutting edge.
The following tips will be of great help to us in playing office politics the better way:
1) Know yourself: There is a saying that is relevant here.
‘He who knows not and knows he knows not, He is simple, teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows, He is asleep, wake him.
He who knows not and knows not that he knows not, He is a fool, spurn him
He who knows and knows that he knows, He is wise, follow him.’
Legal Secretaries and Legal PAs are professionals – so know what you know and at the same time be open to new ideas. The moment a man stops learning, he becomes a living corpse! This is the very essence of the Institute’s Continuous Development Program. Let’s embrace it and we shall be the better for it.
2) Understand your system: Deliberately study the history, product lines and/or business of your organisation. Learn about the company’s culture. How do people dress and speak? What is the company’s mission statement? How is it reflected in the workplace and in the treatment of employees? Know the ‘pillars’ and ‘caterpillars’ in the system, i.e. those who can make or mar your growth and apply wisdom in dealing with them.
3) Be organised and professional: Put on a friendly attitude and always try to assist any colleagues who need your assistance, provided such will not distract or prevent you from discharging your duties. Do it professionally and happily, with an open mind. Always think before you speak or act. If you are not sure of something – silence is golden, especially when you are angry, tired or at a company-sponsored social event.
4) Respect your colleagues: Deliberately try to show respect to your colleagues in the workplace, especially those who tend to be difficult to please. Where necessary, create a kind of artificial distance between you and such colleagues to limit the extent of their control over you. If you do this professionally, they will soon become nicer than you ever thought possible.
5) Protect yourself and your job: If you are new in your workplace, irrespective of your position, try to learn from experienced colleagues within the system. Learn as much as you can about the system – and as fast as possible – before exercising your authority/power over your subordinates. Power is costly! If it is not properly used, the consequences could be far more damaging. Above all, always remember – there is something in you that makes you tick! Guard it jealously. Not all responsibilities should be delegated.
See you at the top!