Here is a Time.com’s quote of the day on Friday, Oct. 15, 2010:
“I’m not going to chirp at the people inside. I know that it’s a lot easier out here than it is in there.”
former Secretary of State, when asked what she would do differently if she were still in the White House; on her book tour, Rice has been careful not to criticize Obama Administration officials
When I read this, I saw a very apparent affinity this quote has with my interest in organizational politics and political dynamic in general. There is something in Ms. Rice political attitude we can reflect on. Don’t get the wrong impression, though. I’m not her fan nor a supporter of her political view. Her conservative political base is obviously not in my preference. But, this has nothing to do with the fact that we can learn from her.
What I’m trying to say is we should learn from how Ms. Rice express her maturity in politics. She refused to criticize the current US administration under Obama; the administration who replaced her and her party after 8 years of horrific and unpopular leadership. Did she act out of conscientiousness? I don’t know. But I know that Ms. Rice is generally perceived as a courteous politician. Some may say that she was one of few Republican who have been friendly to Obama during the 2008 campaign. Nevertheless, she was already quite elegant and diplomatic long before that.
Now, how often we see that type of attitude?
These days, there is a tendency to criticize anyone who is in the top management position without being cognizant about how complex and multifaceted that job really is. The world today is becoming more complex and challenging, and consequently anyone who are in the top position is facing obscure situation and enigmatic challenges. We can see from various media how many nation leaders are becoming less decisive as the world is moving toward new era no one has a clear reference about. It is easy to find critiques in mass media. In fact, critique is an ultimate necessity in today’s ambiguous world, because only through critiques we can see things we might unaware of.
The only issue is that critique is becoming a popular way to stand out in the crowd. Hence, what we often see is insidious criticism, instead of critique. Why? Because in the midst of social confusion, anyone who appear to be rebellious and revolutionary can easily become popular. To put it simply, be an opposition then you’ll gain popularity and become the new celebrity. It doesn’t matter what is your stand on issue and what is your political values and social interest; being the opposition is sexy. This obviously (or perhaps not for many… :-)…. ) is a self-oriented political action. This has seriously derail the essential reasoning of critique itself: A civil but straightforward reminder to those who assume power on behalf of many others.
I’m not saying that this challenge only exists in national politics. Expressing that kind of statement would only show ignorance and immature thinking. In organizations I work in or work with, criticism is now popular. Some may fond of it, but I’m not. For me, that is annoying and expressing immaturity. Why? Because things are never as simple as telling good from bad. Like Rice said, it is a lot easier to be in the outside then in the inside. It is a lot easier to criticize whoever in the top position, as long as we only criticizing with our hands off the work. We criticize our bosses, but do we sure know what to do to perform better than them? Do we outsiders have the same angle in viewing things with those who is inside? And will we do things differently once we step into their shoes?
Those are questions we can’t easily answer. If we never be in their position or any other strategic executive power, than we are lacking of reference. Please be advised, just knowing the job description and reading the manual book about how to do a job is not enough. It is the experience of doing the job and reflections upon it that gives us the reference of the job. We can only fathom about the job if we had spent some time in doing it. That will help us to answer whether we can perform better than the people we often criticize.
However, this is not only thing. Once we got the experience, we might become wiser and more mature; or we might make ourselves skillful but disingenuous politicians. The first one will make us elegant politicians. The latter one will make us skillful politicians with seasoned experiences, but still obsessed by the job and desperately want it back. The first makes us a constructive critique to whomever in the position of power. The second one makes us sneaky politicians who are ready to use popular concerns as political means at our disposal. This commonly happened to those who lost their position in downfall. Interestingly, Condoleezza Rice perhaps is displaying the first one, even though she lost her job as a part of a disgraced administration. In Indonesia, Gus Dur and Sri Mulyani Indrawati are some examnple to think about.
Wait…. Am I saying that deploying political action bad? No! That’s definitely not what I have said.
I say, we need political action in this time of chaos, perhaps more than ever. But we also need manner and ethics in it, because politics is not only about power; it is about using power in the social realm where other also has interests invested. Politics is not like fables we found children story books, for it is a very ambiguous with full of possibilities; both positive and constructive. But, without manner it will be self-destructive, and nobody wants that. Well, at least nobody with sufficient maturity and awareness to realize that politics without orientation toward sustainability is basically meaningless.
So, be a constructive politician in your organization. Get some experience to ensure you understand what you stand for, and what you are criticizing about. Set your agenda. Move your pawns. Deploy your strategy. Aim the position. But, be elegant and do it in manner. Don’t lose yourself in ambition and don’t get drowned by your obsession. Always be aware and reflective about your political actions, for they are only your means. It is your credibility and the organization’s sustainability at stake here. Don’t just be political pundits whose hands never get things done. Be a politician who, as Jeffrey Pfeffer said, gets things done. Be skillful both in agenda setting and in delivering results. And don’t forget, be constructive and do it in dignity.