Politics the path to achievement

Tom Peters On Excellence

WE HEAR again and again that Americans are turned off politics. Frustrated people in business sing the same blues: "This place is so political. All we do is meet, meet, meet, and talk, talk, talk." Oh come on! The fact is, almost nothing, from hearth to the heart of Congress, can be accomplished alone. Even writers and artists depend on communities of patrons, critics, curators and publishers.

Politics is life - the basis for real "can-do" as opposed to the imaginary sort brought to you by "strong leaders".

Every relationship - friend, spouse or business associate - is political and rests on lots of give, some take and shared assumptions. To be sure, divorces occur regularly and business partnerships split up all the time. The fact is, most such failures are political - ie, failure to invest sufficiently in the relationship. The meaning of "invest" is clear: paying the price of frequent compromise and, above all, spending time.

Often as not, the time spent feels "unproductive" but it's usually not. In truth, the wise devote most of their waking hours to "checking out" where the other person is "coming from"; trying to understand what sorts of things went on yesterday that led to today's blow-up over a trivial remark.

For lots of business people, meetings (meetings, and more meetings) are politics at its worst, and an epic waste. I have been to useless meetings, to be sure. But the point many miss is that meetings really aren't about doing things. They are about figuring out the way so-and-so is thinking, and feeling, paving the way for an initiative that is still months off, edging toward some eventual consensus about this or that.

(Some do use meetings to grandstand, intimidate and establish their power vis--vis someone else. But in my experience, these people usually get their comeuppance.When the time comes for promotion, the unartful conniver is rejected: "Jack is just not a good colleague. His `bottom line' results are not worth the price."

(Jack, of course, will scream bloody murder. "I'm a victim of politics," he will doubtless tell any and all.)

Some gravitate to small firms to avoid politics. Forget it. The only place to avoid politics is in a cabin, by yourself, with no electricity, somewhere deep in the wilderness

Small companies are usually less "bureaucratic". For example, there is a lot less paper shuffling. But all organisations with more than one employee are political. And all companies with three or more employees have cliques. (Some decisions will go two against one. And Mr or Ms One will at times feel as "victimised" by the other two as does the big-company operations chief who says, "The accountants are ganging up on me to score political points in front of the boss.")

Is the upshot of all politics a bland solution, a mentality of lowest common denominator? Or hapless compromise of values and perpetual inaction?

Yes, partially. No successful leader (nor worthy friend nor contributing family member) is unsullied by politics. The effective human is the compromised human. Historian James MacGregor Burns, in his book Leadership, discussed "transactional leadership" and "transforming leadership". The latter, he wrote, was practiced by the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who, almost literally, moved heaven and earth. Yet these most inspiring of leaders spent most of their time on transactional affairs - the nitty gritty of dealing with followers and, especially, one's inner circle, minding bruised egos, meeting, talking, meeting, talking, meeting some more.

Almost all effective leaders (whether in government, business or the arts) love politics and enjoy the intrigues. They delight in the journey itself. They invest heavily in relationships (to an extent that amazes bystanders) and are expert in reading eye-shifts, toe taps and a hundred of other nuances of body language.

Indeed, they may bend too far in the breeze and promise the essence of their dream. They end up drifting further away from any meritorious goal. On the other hand, without the constant bending, twisting, tacking, there is no chance - none - of accomplishing anything of significance.

In the end, to hate "politics" is to eschew most forms of achievement. There is nothing wrong with leading the unpolitical life of the hermit. Just don't be surprised when you fail to be in the Forbes magazine list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, merit a footnote in the history books, or have many people at your funeral.

TPG Communications

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam