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Surviving Office Politics

Navigating the halls of bureaucracy requires strategy and the occasional sacrifice.

December 22, 2010  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Surviving the streets is hard enough, but the reality is that surviving the office can be even harder. Office politics and the bureaucratic process tend to be akin to a black hole that few escape intact once pulled inside.

Some old timers will tell you that the real reason we wear Kevlar is to walk safely in the halls of our agency. On the streets it's easy to know who is shooting at you; in the office, not so much. Ross Perot, former candidate for president in the early '90s, said it best: "War has rules, mud wrestling has rules, politics has none."

In an organizational hierarchy, bureaucratic politics share the same tendencies wherever you go. We attend classes on almost every subject imaginable but I can't think of one on how to deal with the political nature of law enforcement. The obstacles we encounter in a bureaucratic setting apply evenly to agencies with appointed or elected CEOs.

In the scheme of things, we can only influence decision-making so much; but as long as we do our jobs, we can walk away relatively unscathed in a politically charged arena. It's only when we don't do our jobs — or, even worse, use poor coping mechanisms — that our world starts to cave in. Let me share a few jewels I have learned over the last 23 years of my highly colorful career.

A Few Concepts

You have to start by understanding the difference between a manager and a leader. First, a manager manages things like schedules, time sheets, and budgets. A leader deals with people. A leader sets the tone, is a mentor, and tries to motivate his or her command on a daily basis.

The main difference between the two is that managers do things right, whereas leaders do the right thing. Therein lies the rub…the doing the right thing. Doing the right thing means different things to different people. For true bureaucrats it means doing the right thing for their careers. By trying to be someone instead of standing for something, the conditions necessary for a black hole start to form.

The next concept you need to understand is that office politics is nothing more than office relationships. I refer to this as relationship bubbles. No one is truly safe when creating a politically oriented relationship bubble because it can burst at any time. If you become a political liability or have spent all your political capital, you will find yourself outside looking in. Sometimes bubble people have a long ride and sometimes they have a hard fall.

In office politics, friendships are more important than skill sets. Political needs translate into practical needs. Relationship bubbles speak to issues of trust. Long-term friendships have a major impact on positions, assignments, and promotions. If you didn't get the transfer, it doesn't mean that the best qualified person did. All it really means is that you didn't, so don't take it personally. No one said life was fair and if they did, they lied.

Don't Always Take Credit

In general if you can answer two questions for a career bureaucrat, you have a better chance of affecting his decision-making: "What's in it for him?" and "How will his supervisor see it?" In past administrations, I have used this to my advantage. I have had to sell an idea by making it appear to be someone else's. If it was worthy, that person's supervisor would view him in a positive light.

Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Starrman69 @ 12/27/2010 5:13 AM

Good Info! When I started at a Sheriff's Office in '71, Michigan's statute on Sheriff's was the rule; "...The Sheriff may appoint one or more deputies to serve at his pleasure..." No union and it wasn't unusual for a new Sheriff coming into office to bring several new deputies with him. Covering Your Action was observed if you wanted to keep working. Even today, a LEO has to cover the bases. I kept copies of reports and memos. Now, with all the social networking going on one has to be mindful of what they post or how they comment on the Internet.

Reflecting back, it was a stressful job, both on the street and in the office. Especially as I was promoted.

Don, retired and happy in Poinciana

eadamson @ 12/27/2010 6:47 AM

The description of office politics is so true regardless of the agency. The one piece that truly sticks out to me as something that everyone should accept is "some decisions are not yours to make" and for alot of officers that is the hardest thing to realize.

One other piece that may not be directly related to office politics but is related is the issue of morale. Officers who do not agree with their supervisor, commander, or chief will often times just walk away after being told of a decision and just say "that is stupid" and trash the decision to their co-workers. This hurts morale and if we really want to help an agency we have to take our feelings off our shoulder and just deal with it. We all know that bad decisions are made by supervisors, command staff, and chief's but unless it is life threatening officers should accept it is their decision to make and then file it away as something you would do differently once you get to make decisions of that nature.

It is easy to simply argue that if something is wrong it is wrong but often times wrong is simply a matter of opinion. When I was a younger officer I dealt with admin who made some of the most bonehead decisions I had ever seen over the course of my career and when I reached a level that I could make decisions I thought it would be better. However, now I realize many decisions were simply the admins decision to make and not mine... It doesn't mean either one was actually right or wrong. I would have been much happier over the course of my career if I had simply realized that much earlier.

Great article for everyone to read and hopefully understand.

bcmc25 @ 12/27/2010 7:18 AM

Thank God for "2 wheels and one seat". I haven't met one office poge yet worth a spit. Why can't people just do their job?

sajjad ali @ 5/7/2012 6:54 AM

i think office politics is a worst thing which happens in organization from a long period

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