People aren't always rational.
As an undergrad I studied economics. When I did my MBA I reveled in finance, stats and operations. I enjoy the Lego-like fit of numbers and the smooth arc of a curve as mathematical solutions are plotted.
How numbers make sense.
But people aren't numbers.
As outlined in Maslow's Hierarchy – a solid tool you really need to study – people's behavior is often times driven by circumstance. Otherwise reasonable persons make dumb calls and do silly things when circumstances shift. What one does depends frequently on temporary factors.
When times are good everyone's decision-making is sound, but when times are tough some of the best of us can wilt into aberrance.
Leaders, managers and individual contributors all have this capacity for variable behavior: so why do some resist the temporal influences acting consistently through good times and bad?
Research tells us that predictability, that is the tendency to follow a set pattern of behavior, is paramount to others being able to work effectively with us. In fact, one can even be an oger – a real pain in the ass – if they just do that every day. Consistency is what adults look for in relationships so they know how to prepare for others emotionally and psychologically.
So consistency matters, and consistency is a personal choice. It defines our character.
Practicing politics badly though may cause us all to behave irrationally or inconsistently, to drop our normal patterns. It abrades character.
In other words, people do some crazy shit.
Political behavior isn't inherently either good or bad: after all, politics is simply the act of influencing others. Isn't that the definition of modern leadership?
And make no mistake, we all practice politics in one way or another. Like my good friend Ed Loya says, I don't mind politics, just be good at it.
But bad politics – making choices and calls in the moment only for self (see Maslow's disussion of social and esteem needs) can harm more than just our character or reputation.
Random decisions without consistency can make work harder for our teams because targets constantly shift. Ethics can get tossed by the wayside opening us up to liabilities. Our very culture – the habits and practices that define our organization – can become meaningless when we make choice based on political expediency.
What to do?
Since people are political animals its not likely we'll ever be above politics. We're often aware of influencing others and trying to increase that. That's a pretty typical day for most of us.
The answer lies perhaps in the measure of short or long-term. When we make decisions or change course is the need short term or long term? Doing things in the short term is appropriate when we have an immediate problem say, fixing a flat tire.
Yet most of adult life isn't short-term in nature. Some things – like raising a family – take a lifetime. We're never really done.
So when faced with making the tough call try to take the long view. If a choice you're about to make isn't right over the long term its probably just a political decision.
And before you execute that decision, you can think about it one more time.
People aren't numbers.