Legitimate and Illegitimate Political Behavior in Organizations

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  • 0:05 Not Just for Politicians
  • 0:49 Two Types of Behavior
  • 2:23 Causes and Consequences
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn

Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

Politics are present in just about every organization out there. The main issue is if those politics are legitimate or illegitimate and how they impact the work environment. We will look at this issue in this lesson.

Not Just for Politicians

Politics. It's surprising that a word as simple as 'politics' could elicit such automatic thoughts and visions in our minds. Some of us might envision a politician speaking about why we should do this or why that particular law should or should not happen. What we are seeing is a person with an agenda, one he or she wants to push through, and they are speaking about it to persuade individuals to their side.

In the business world, we can see that politics is actually some sort of activities where a person goes after a goal or something they want that is focused on their particular interests. The challenge is these individuals can do this either legitimately or illegitimately with varying reasons and consequences.

Two Types of Behavior

Looking at politics in the business world, we need to understand that there are two types, legitimate and illegitimate. Legitimate have far fewer reaching implications than illegitimate because legitimate politics fall within the guidelines of what could be considered normal or acceptable in the business world. I am not saying that legitimate politics are always right, but they are not intended to harm individuals and are part of everyday life in the business world.

For example, you might need a certain machine, which is in the hands of another department, to get your work done. You might start talking to your supervisor about how you need a machine like that and you have more use for it than other departments. Notice, you are not outright saying you want that machine, but rather you are, for lack of a better word, dancing around the issue, trying to push your own agenda.

So, by now you're thinking, okay, Rob, what makes these legitimate political business people cross over the line and start using illegitimate power? I wish the answer was an easy one, but quite frankly, it's not. Truthfully, people use illegitimate politics when they cannot get what they want by other, more acceptable means; or to be honest, they're just not good people. They see getting ahead at any cost or obtaining what they want as the key driver in their professional world and will do whatever they have to to obtain it.

As simple as it sounds, and this is where it gets kind of abstract, illegitimate politics goes against the spoken and unspoken rules of the business game. The reason it's abstract is those rules are in the eye of the beholder. What one person might think is within the rules, another might think it's outside the rules.

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