Recently, one of my clients said to me in frustration, "My team and I are so busy with our work that it drives me crazy to have to deal with all these internal political issues that waste my time."
I've heard many forms of this familiar chorus, usually accompanied by anger, frustration or simple exhaustion. "I hate having to be political," or "dealing with all the people issues distracts from the real work," or "social stuff has no place at the office. Why can't we all just focus on the work?"
From this point forward, any client who starts up a similar lament will receive a framed copy of this quote for his or her desk.
"News flash: Organizations consist of people."
That's from a Harvard Business Review blog last week, All Organizations Are Social, But Few Are Social Organizations which goes on to say:
"How well an organization works depends on how its people interact and work together. Thus, every organization is 'social.'"
Absolutely. People, and all the messy politics, social interactions, and relationship complexities that go with them, are part and parcel of the work. Leaders that get stuck in the mindset that "the people" are separate from and an obstacle to doing "the work" set themselves up to feel constantly angry and frustrated.
Understandably, many leaders gravitate to doing the "work" in order to avoid the people part. Leaders are typically experts at whatever type of work they are leading. Cranking out that report or responding to that customer request is comfortable, results in a tangible accomplishment and is less fraught with risk than having a difficult conversation with a colleague, boss or employee. But often the key relationships that need tending are ones that only the leader can tend to.
The people part should be the leader's primary work.The next time people or politics get you riled up, take a deep breath, and read the following list out loud to yourself:
- People are the most important use of a leader's time.
- Every people issue that pops up is an opportunity to further our goals.
- Being "political" means paying attention to the complex relations between people inside and outside of our organization.
- Every organization is social.
- Focusing on people IS focusing on the work.
KRISTIN MASCHKA is a best-selling author and a consultant in organization development and change leadership. Kristin brings a fresh perspective and authentic voice to the issues at the heart of family and community life today: modern motherhood and fatherhood, public education, community organizations, worklife issues, personal finance and economics, technology and business. This is cross-posted from her blog.