Karin’s Leadership Articles

Can you ignore office politics? I wish the answer was yes. I’d love to give you a Harry Potter style invisibility hoodie to pull up over your head when the cross-fire starts. You could go on with your work while the turkeys battle for survival.

It’s not that easy. I’m a bit like Cheryl Conner, author of Office Politics: Must You Play? A Handbook for Survival/Success. I disdain office politics because “I’m just not that good at it.” If you want to learn how to play the game, read another blog. If you wrestle with staying true to your values within the political turbulence, read on.

Naive Doesn’t Work

For years, I tried the invisible hoodie thing. That worked for a while. I got results and built strong teams. That seemed to be enough. When the politics would get sticky, I’d put my head down and work. I stayed away from gossip and made decisions that were right for the business. I had strong mentors and sponsors. You can go along way with that approach. Until you can’t.

Being naive is dangerous. It leaves you unprepared and reactionary. If there’s a Bengal Tiger lurking, it’s best to know it. Otherwise, the next tiger you may face comes from within.

Counter Attacks Don’t Work

The first time I faced a highly skilled political gamer, I reacted poorly. I was shocked that someone would act that way and was unprepared to respond. My reaction– the most ugly form of defensive. I went into the “two can play that game mode.” I started withholding information. I told others of her ugly nature (not realizing how tacky I looked in the process). I became a terrible role model for my team. I diminished my credibility as a leader. The next thing I knew, I had my own bengal stripes forming and I didn’t wear them well.

Rising Above Office Politics

Understand the politics, but rise above the drama. Some tips for maintaining your integrity and credibility when the jungle gets rough:


  • Stay focused on the business outcomes
  • Look for common ground (most political battles come from how, not what)
  • Be aware of competing agendas (work to understand them)
  • Focus on building deeper relationships
  • Check underlying assumptions
  • Address conflict one-on-one
  • Role model taking the high-road


  • Gossip or triangulate (talk about people)
  • Reward negative behavior by responding in kind
  • Take the bait (get sucked into unnecessary political conversations)
  • Play your own games
  • Draw your team into the drama

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Eric Dingler

    Rise above the drama. That’s my favorite line from your post.

    Office politics normally does come from people wanting what is truly best. In actual politics, Democrats, Republicans and all the others all do want the best for our country. But, you are right, we disagree on how to get their. I never really thought of it this way. Thank you for teaching me this.

    In the office, I think it’s important to talk about all of this. People loos sight that the “other team” also wants the organization to succeed. We’ve recently adopted the following. In the essentials we have unity. In the non-essentials we have liberty. In everything we have charity. As a team, we use our Core Values as our essentials.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Eric, thanks so much. I love that. “In the essentials we have unity…” What an important and insipring message.

    • Gwen Edwards

      I like what your team adopted, Eric. I am going to suggest it for my teams also.

      • Eric Dingler


        I’ll add that the greatest value in adding this for your team is the work you can do in identifying what is indeed essential. I bet at least 75% of what I thought was essential turned out to be important, yet non-essential. We went from a huge list of “core values” to 6. It’s hard work, but worth it in the long run.

  2. Sheila Johnson

    Understand the politics, but rise above the drama.. This nails it for me. I think this is an important reminder, and something I will share with my team as well. I have a very high performing team and while they work across so many different functional groups, they run into this more often then I would have expected. Thanks again!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Sheila, great to see you here. Navigating the political waters can be even more tricky with cross-functional groups. So important to build trusting relationships.


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