Sincerity and Office Politics

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

This is part of a series of posts organized and arranged by Jane Perdue.  You can find the introduction here and the post on networking by Jennifer V. Miller at her blog The People Equation.  Next week, Susan Mazza will post on the political side of agendas at Random Acts of Leadership. The question before us today: examining the political and non-political sides of sincerity and authenticity.

“The secret to life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Groucho Marx

Sincerity and authenticity are leadership competencies that inspire trust.  Trust lubricates relationships and transactions. Trust makes it easier for people to work together.  Trust is necessary for togetherness and group identity.  Being authentic means I know what you’re “for.” If I am confident that another person is “for” the same things I’m “for,” I don’t have to spend energy managing the gap in our allegiance.  I have more energy to devote to the allegiance itself and its desired outcome.

Misleading Motives

When a person fakes authenticity or sincerity, they misrepresent their true motives and create a trust gap.  Faked authenticity and sincerity sabotage shared vision as they kill trust. They create an organization where trust is replaced by “politics;” (office politics, or little-league team politics, or homeowner’s association politics, or church politics, or “you-name-it” politics). Wikipedia defines “politics” as a process by which groups of people make decisions.  The word originated from the Greek word polis which means city-state. The original idea rises from the ideas of republic and democracy, but over time the term has taken on negative connotations.  Many times office politics implies individuals trying to manipulate outcomes to favor a few rather than the whole. Office politics rise when objectives are not shared or clearly understood.  Lack of clarity on shared mission causes everyone to pursue their own definition of “right.” End-justifying activities such as posturing and manipulation become best-practices of the organization.

Unsuspecting co-workers drop their guard and award trust when it would otherwise be unjustified. Power initially transfers until true motives are discovered.  When trust is compromised and people withdraw, the dark side of office politics fill the trust void.

Restore Sincerity

What do you do when you recognize your group’s culture is one of distrust and politics?

  1. Commit to authenticity and transparency. Take the leadership role by developing sincere, team-focused motives and being transparent. (Someone has to go first!)
  2. Renew a shared vision – work to make sure everyone on your team is working for the same goal. If you’re not sure about a team member’s motives, maybe you need to help them find another team.
  3. Align motivations – Every sustainable relationship must be win-win. Align individual motives with the shared vision.
  4. Tear down walls – transparency is the only way to initially prove true authenticity and sincerity.  When people begin protecting themselves and masking true motives, credibility evaporates. Work to keep people open and honest.
  5. Encourage patience and grace – authenticity is proven over time.
  6. Celebrate progress – Repeatable success over time builds confidence.

What other steps can you recommend to readers who long for true sincerity (positive office politics) or a politics-free workplace? Speak up and stamp out negative office politics, one organization at a time.

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jennifer  |  26 Jan 2010  |  Reply


You say, “Trust lubricates relationships and transactions”. What a great metaphor! Building trust is such a huge part of the leader-follower equation. Sincerity and authenticity are two powerful components of trust. I also like your six actionable ideas for improving trust in one’s organization.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post.
.-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Thank Your Mentor Today =-.

Bud Coburn  |  26 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Great article and very practical. This is often an area that is ignored by leaders. This is a key for any leader to grasp and apply for building a successful and productive working environment.

susan mazza  |  26 Jan 2010  |  Reply

I liked the same phrase as Jennifer in particular. Great food for thought and ideas for action. Two things occured to me as I read this. The first is that “misleading motves” can turn out to be misunderstood motives. If we are not mindful of and
responsible for our interpretations we can feel mistrust that is not warranted.

The second is that 5 and 6 on your list are so very important. Every conversation is an opportunity to build trust. Mindfulness not just of our own motives and choice of actions but also how we are occurring is vital to keeping the dark side of politics at bay.

Mike Henry  |  26 Jan 2010  |  Reply

As usual, you got me thinking about something else that’s a pet peeve too. We are responsible for how we’re interpreted. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to be properly understood. Sometimes we think that if people misunderstand us, that’s their fault. But in order to be authentic, we need the feedback to make sure our message is received with the same meaning it was sent.

David Andrews  |  26 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Great post Mike.

I like the ‘trust’ factor. In New Zealand I’ve found most people have highly refined ‘bulls%$t antennae’ which pretty quickly picks up leaders that are ‘faking it until the make it’.

Enjoying your blog and tweets – keep it up!
.-= David Andrews´s last blog ..Blinded by the light? =-.

Kelly Ketelboeter  |  26 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Fantastic post Mike!

Transparency when leading and in all relationships is so important. It builds and sustains the trust. I had never really considered it to play a role in office politics. You are right on the money when you say that, “Office politics rise when objectives are not shared or clearly understood.” That just makes so much sense. So not only do we need to transparent we need to be able to communicate effectively. When people aren’t on the same page and in the same book personal agendas do and will get in the way.

The tips you provided are extremely helpful in building successful relationships in the work place where everyone is working towards the same end goal.

The one thing that I think may keep people from being transparent and authentic is the fear that their thoughts, feelings or beliefs will not be accepted. In turn they may alienate themselves by not being truly authentic. An open mind among all team players is key along with the patience and grace you recommended. It’s up to the leader to foster an environment where people safe and accept their differences as well as focus on the strengths they bring to the team.


Mike Henry  |  27 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Kelly, thanks for the great comment. Fear is the big problem. It causes us to mask our behaviors and it also causes us to look out for ourselves. I’m working on another series about how to create win-win environments. Win-win always requres someone to go last. You can only do that if you don’t “fear” loss from letting everyone else win first.

Meredith Bell  |  27 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Mike, this is such an important post.

As I read it, I thought back 27 years ago – the last time I was employed by someone else. I left that organization exactly because of the things you describe here – office politics, lack of sincerity, and lack of trust. I just didn’t have the stomach for that kind of environment (Literally, it was making me sick because of the conflict between my value system and what I was experiencing every day.). So one of the other HUGE impacts of office politics and a lack of sincerity is turnover. The people who not only value but REQUIRE authenticity in their relationships will not stick around to see if things change.

For someone to implement the 6 excellent steps you outlined, I believe they must possess emotional maturity, high self-esteem, and a genuine respect for other human beings. A person lacking any of those is more likely to resort to false authenticity (is that an oxymoron?). I’d just add that anyone interested in implementing the 6 steps needs to recognize the personal strengths that will be required throughout the process and realize it’s worth the effort to ensure a transparent culture. It makes a tremendous difference in how people feel about coming to work, the work itself and themselves.
.-= Meredith Bell´s last blog ..You Can Win the Battle but Lose the War =-.

Mike Henry  |  27 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the great comment. I agree false sincerity stems from either fear or uninformed selfishness. And I say uninformed because it’s generally in our true best interest to promote the greater “we” than the lesser “me.” Even if the group’s best interest is different than our own, it’s generally in our true best interest to be about something bigger than ourselves. Thanks again. Mike…

Katy  |  27 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Lots of great thoughts in here. People who don’t like each other (or even trust each other) can usually still manage to work together if their goals are in alignment. If there’s a serious lack of trust in an environment, it will take time to rebuild it. In the meantime you can usually restore productivity by focusing on aligning goals across the board.
.-= Katy´s last blog ..25 Tools Every Manager Should Know =-.

Mike Henry  |  27 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Katy for the comment. I agree that alignment enables productivity, but I would say that trust acts like a turbo-charger. Alignment without trust will only take you to some level of productivity lower than alignment with trust. Thanks, Mike…

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