This is the time of year when most of us turn our attention to presidential politics, but let us not forget that business is also political – to think otherwise is simply naïve. Office politics exist in every organization without regard for industry, structure, culture, or values. Good leaders will do what they can to align interests/actions on matters more important than individual political agendas, but if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you realize no organization is immune to office politics. The tricky part about politics in business is you’re supposed to be on the same team with your co-workers. In today’s post, I’ll share a few thoughts on how to navigate the muddy waters of office politics.

The sad reality is covert actions take place every day in the hallways, offices, and boardrooms of the business world. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a senior leadership position, a middle manager, or an administrative staff member, the sad reality is political high-jinks are likely part of your world whether you like it or not. While I don’t care for the chicanery of office politics, and attempt to avoid it where possible, I also understand the importance of being savvy enough to recognize it when it’s adversely impacting my world. I know this sounds quite cynical, but the dark side of business rears its ugly head in every environment, and if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings you’ll fall prey to its venomous bite.

Let’s face it, the regrettable truth is not all people in business have altruistic intentions. There are in fact many more mercenary self-promoters than any of us would care to admit. While I’m certainly not advocating you adopt a state of perpetual paranoia, I am suggesting you practice a heightened sense of awareness. When you’re dealing with somebody’s career, you are also dealing with a person’s sense of power, ego, financial security, self-worth, and many other things people will do virtually anything to protect. Moreover, many people ordinarily thought of as being incapable of unethical behavior, are in fact quite capable of outright reprehensible actions if it means getting a leg-up in the workplace.

I have witnessed everything from the typical water-cooler gossip, to the land-grabs that take place while people are out on medical leave. I have observed family members treating other family members as if they were mortal enemies, and supposed best friends undermining one another behind each other’s back. I have watched the constant turf wars that take place for increased responsibility or visibility, to shareholders frozen out, to executives ousted for little more than hearsay, and the list goes on and on…

The bottom line is politics are unavoidable in business. Not recognizing this fact may lead to you being on the outside looking in, while not ever knowing what hit you until it was too late. It pays to be aware of your surroundings and to look for inconsistent or predatory behavior on the part of subordinates, peers, and superiors alike. If you understand what’s at stake for whom, and you pay attention to the behavioral patterns of those around you, it is quite possible that you may avoid unnecessary political battles, as well as win the battles that must be fought.

As a final thought, my best advice is to lead rather than politics. Stay out of the drama whenever possible and let your work and your actions speak for themselves. Focus your efforts on building strong relationships underpinned by a solid foundation of humility and trust. The more time spent in helping those around you become successful, the more allies you will create, and the more political capital you’ll amass. The combination of doing the right thing, while being aware of your surroundings is the most best approach to managing office politics. Avoid office politics where you can, resist being political, but do everything you can to become politically savvy.