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Politics in IT: Separate operators from performers

Al Kuebler | Feb. 7, 2011
There's politics in IT. Are you shocked to hear it? I didn't think so. But it can be negotiated. It comes down to knowing what sorts of people are around you. I'll get to that in a bit, along with some advice for dealing with the bad players, but first let me tell you about two times in my career when politics came to the fore.

I'm a believer in focusing on performance and developing relationships. But as these two incidents illustrate, even when you do that, you can be hit by the unexpected. But you know what? That's OK. The point is that the proactive competence that I have been preaching will indeed serve you well in the course of your career, even if it can't save you from every bumpy political situation. The truth is that when you run into the sort of trouble that I just described from my own career, you are running up against people who aren't the sort of proactive leader that I advocate. And chances are that when things reach a point where you can't continue to serve a company, it's really for the best that you get on to the next chapter in your career.

Not that you can run away from every job that presents you with uncomfortable politics. You would constantly be on the run. It's actually possible to overcome many political situations. The first step is to learn how to read people.

Two kinds of people

When it comes to workplace politics, it's helpful to learn how to differentiate the performers from the operators.

Performers are the people whom you to want report to, whom you want to hire for your team and whom you're happy to see among your peers. They have a high standard of behavior, a committed work ethic and a well-developed sense of integrity. You can't identify them by their education; they could be Harvard graduates or high-school dropouts. But they exude knowledgeability about their profession, as well as intelligence. They exist at all ranks, and whether they are in the corner office or a cubicle, their conduct is basically the same. They perform in a consistently superior fashion, giving the impression that they would rather do a good job and have it appreciated than almost anything else. They believe that their efforts will be recognized and rewarded (naïvely so, if they're working for an operator). They might make mistakes, but they are quick to own up to them and waste no time in dealing with them. They learn from their mistakes and never make the same one twice. Performers are also genteel, considerate and effective communicators. They work well with and support others. You can be certain that they will do the right thing even when you are not there to know that they've done it. They are happy to share credit for successes. They honor your belief and trust in them. I admit that all of this sounds too good to be true, but I can give you names.


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