A scabbard is the sheath for a sword. Made out of shaped wood and leather and worked metal, they are beautiful and functional, but play a lesser role to their glorious partner the sword. There is a legend, though that one particular scabbard was equally, or perhaps even more valuable, that the mighty sword it contained.
Excalibur was Arthur’s sword, and the weight of legend is focused on it. However, while it assured victory, it was said that Excalibur’s scabbard prevented the wearer from suffering any wound in combat. As I see it, if I cannot be wounded in combat, I can pretty much win any fight I am in, with nothing more than a toothpick! I’ll take the scabbard any day!
In any workplace there are politics, and it must be distinguished at the outset that there are two main kinds of politics. One is positive, and the other negative. Positive politics are to be encouraged and welcomed in the workplace. Negative politics are to be eradicated.
Positive politics are those that add value to and enhance the workplace. They are about relationships – supportive, affirming and positive relationships. Yes, they can be about power, and yes, they can be about achieving recognition and acquiring allies in the office. These things are not bad in and of themselves. Power, like money, is neither good nor bad; it is simply a means to an end. How it is USED is what determines good or bad.
Positive politics are about competence. Excellence. Adding value. We want to be significant in an office so we add value and become significant through good relationships that enhance others. We build their success and synergize not only for our own gain but for theirs too. We give, and spend, and invest, in others and in the success of their projects. The result is trust, sincerity and community. People who give because giving is returned with interest without keeping score. People share because there is enough to go around. Give away credit for ideas and successes, because there is no need to hoard it at the expense of others. Success breeds success, and there is enough for everyone. It’s a world of abundance.
Who lives in a workplace – or a team – like this?
Negative politics is what we commonly call “politics” It has a bad rap, and it deserves it. Negative politics, however, isn’t called that, because it wants to be hidden, and secret, and it doesn’t like being called out and exposed. It doesn’t want to be known at all; it just wants to work in the background and achieve its ends without even being known to exist. Its power lies in secrecy.
A person cultivates a relationship with a power figure, not based in excellence, but in convenience, or in juicy knowledge acquired and shared. They could also be setting someone up to fail, by the same method. The idea is ascendancy through manipulative control.
Gossip, rumour, manipulation, half-truths and innuendo are key tools in the power-monger’s arsenal. It’s about moving emotions around, aligning them secretly in a particular direction, and facts, of course, just get in the way. Innuendo, is far preferred. It lets imaginings take root and get stirred up, shifting loyalties around by casting shadows where shadows should not be.
The Dragon is Politics, and the weapon that defeats it, slowly but surely, is the Scabbard of Sincerity.
The sword does not work, because there is no direct target. The shield does not offer protection, because there is no direct attack. The scabbard is worn by the soldier in battle, and is always by his side. It is part of his clothing, his armour. You cannot wield a sword in battle, unless it is first carried to that battle, in its scabbard. Like the Scabbard of Excalibur, it is a weapon and a source of protection by its mere presence, not by it being brandished about.
So, we have a workplace full of negative politics. Someone behind the scenes is directing behaviours and emotions, and other people are responding to that persons “guidance” and are polarising the workplace into for and against; approve and disapprove; yes and no; right and wrong; better and worse; them and us.
There are lies, and rumours, and unnecessary emotions. Oh yes, don’t forget those! The manipulator about to be exposed, the politician about to lose their grip on power, will not take it lightly. There WILL be a reaction, a crisis, an accusation, a complaint, of sorts. A distraction to focus and divert attention away. People will be turned against each other. They might even use company processes and procedures to stack the deck in their favour – a personal grievance, a preemptive strike if you will.
And usually it will be directed at the person who is a threat to that secret power base. The poor soul may not even know it, but even if they did, a simple defence of denial would be of no use. And the person who is under threat, whose power base is being eroded, will be hardly, if at all, visible. The rumours will have no attributable source; the information vague. The memories uncertain. Some other poor colleague might be placed in the spotlight and urged quietly to bring a grievance to muddy up the waters…
What is the defence to this extremely toxic strategy? I believe the pre-existing sincerity of the individual attacked is of primary significance. But not a quiet sincerity that cannot be verified by others. People should not say, on hearing an accusation “Wow, So-and-so? I never would have though that.”
We are talking the kind of sincerity that makes others go “So-and-so? Ha! Not. A. Chance.”
What builds this kind of sincerity and this kind of a reputation? This has many answers, some of which will be expanded on in a later post or two. But let’s tick off a quick list here to whet your appetites:
- Someone who is not judgmental or blaming of others
- Someone who gets things done, on time, all the time.
- Someone who does not react emotionally, always responds with thought and balance.
- Someone who never says bad things about another employee (Compliments in Public, challenges in private)
- Someone who is kind and genuine.
- Someone who gives credit away, and builds the success of others
- Someone who has built a reputation for integrity
Basically, a positive politician.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that” (Martin Luther King Jr)
There is a Dragon called Politics, and he cannot be driven out by more politics. Only sincerity can do that.