Kissing up, brown nosing, back stabbing, phony, deceptive, shamelessly self-promoting...these are all words and terms many of us, myself included, have associated with corporate politics. It's been described in the dictionary like this- "to deal with people in an opportunistic, manipulative, or devious way, as for job advancement." Needless to say, it typically doesn't bring to mind many positive images when you refer to "playing politics". But paint many of the same words listed above with a more positive brush, it could as easily be called "networking".
Growing up in the business world, I absolutely despised corporate politics. I vowed never to involve myself in any such thing. My general attitude was; I'll let my performance and results do the self-promotion for me and if the boss and my colleagues don't see it, that's their problem. I guess it's my linebacker mentality that it's what you do on the field that is all that counts. It was about what I had thought was developing a performance based culture, not one based on who you know or who you sucked up to. And was I ever wrong!
Clearly, performance matters and without good performance, one who engages in shameless self-promotion and kissing up will eventually be found out as the fool that they are. But on the flip side, to believe that it's only performance that matters is potentially just as foolish. Whether we (and I'm talking to myself here) like it or not, corporate politics are simply a part of every organization and company. Choosing not to get involved enables the corporate culture to interpret and develop its own assessment of your performance, intentions and the very person you are, even if it's inaccurate. And generally, without your control and involvement to shape and mold the message, it's seldom positive...it's simply human nature at work. It was in times when I was quiet and withdrawn letting my performance do the talking, that it worked against me. Not surprisingly, whenever I reached out, even showed some vulnerability, corporate opinion swung to my favor.
Is complimenting the boss publically just brown nosing, or is it simply being polite? Is taking a cohort to lunch to get to know and understand them better disingenuous or is it a form of networking? Is writing a blog expressing your own thoughts and opinions a form of shameless self promotion or is it a way to brand yourself and share ideas? After years of seeing it done right and more often in my own case done very wrong, I believe it comes down to your intent in engaging in these actions. With good and genuine intentions I now see it as smart networking.
An executive recruiter who I've been networking with (yes, I've been cured!), Janice Ellig, wrote a book jointly with Bill Morin (founder of Drake, Beam & Morin) called "Driving the Career Highway" and I highly recommend it. In the book, there are several chapters devoted to managing up to the boss, sideways to your colleagues and directing the politics of your career. In the book, they ask the question, "how do you avoid political corporations?...answer: "It's way of life...if you don't (get involved) you can get caught in a crossfire of bullets. It is messy, but it is also what makes it possible to get things done".