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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee