The Seven Sins Of Office Politics

Nov 04, 2016 1 Min Read


We hear the word “politics” a lot, but we’re often unsure what that means. There are beneficial politics which must take place for an organisation to succeed (building coalitions, influencing top executives, making a case for your project versus others), but being aware of these seven (I’m sure there are more) “sins” of office politics will help us all do a better job wherever we serve.

Whether an individualistic culture like North America, or a more collectivistic culture, I am convinced these “sins” have serious and sometimes dramatic consequences.

1. Overreaching

Let’s start with the basics. Overreaching is simply this: you’re out of your depth, and you know it. What’s worse is that others know it, and they will hold you to your word.

They know you don’t have the competence to achieve what you’ve stated. They know you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The impulse to act as if we know something can be very powerful, but it is unwise to act upon unless we can finish what we’ve started.

2. Grandstanding

I will be the first in line to say, “The only person who can promote you is you!” But illegitimate self-promotion is a dangerous action. We also call it bragging. People don’t like braggarts! And when an entire team is involved, the last thing people want to hear from you is, “See what I did!”

3. Stepping Over

If there is one warning all new supervisors should know, it’s this: DO NOT, in any way, shape or form, step over your manager or director or VP.

You may think you’re smart, you may think you have the solution, but don’t overstep them. This “sin” is career suicide.

It generally happens because of a lack of patience to get things done, believing one’s superior is “in the way.” Think again and talk with them ahead of time if you have an idea.

4. Upstaging

While stepping over your boss is a serious matter, there is a great “sin” managers and leaders do without considering the consequences: upstaging your boss.

This is, by far, one of the most deadly behaviours you can perform. When you make them look bad, you have just put your job at risk.

5. Inaccuracy

In my career, my greatest failure ever was providing inaccurate data to my superior. I made excuses for my failures, but it all came down to this: I cut corners, I rushed, and avoided the necessary detailed work required to ensure the integrity of my data.

Inaccuracy becomes evident very quickly, to all in the room, and credibility dissipates like smoke. While I recovered quickly from my mistakes, mistrust remained in my data.

6. Stepping On

Other managers can become victims to your ego. Here’s how it happens: you’re in a meeting and you want to prove someone wrong, (or worse, prove that you’re right) so you blatantly challenge them in front of their boss (or worse, their peers!) to make a point.

People remember the embarrassment and shame of moments when someone stepped on them. And one day, they may become your boss.

7. Overpromising

When you cannot deliver what you’ve promised, you’ve increased your own stress and you’re likely to increase the success of your team to maintain your reputation.

The impulse to act as if we can accomplish the impossible can be very powerful, but it is unwise to act upon unless we can finish what we’ve started.

A Confession. . .

Throughout my career, I’ve done them all. . . one time. They were unpleasant learning experiences and I never did them again.

It was painful learning, and I offer them to you as a gentle warning: these political mistakes have consequences that aren’t pretty.

Jim Bohn is a leadership expert who works with leaders at all levels to improve their ability at managing organisational effectiveness. To engage with him, e-mail us at
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