Since I've been known to make more than my fair share of jokes about cats, I thought it only fair to give their furry counterparts equal time. Perhaps, in the final analysis, cats really are more civilized. After all, no one ever talks about the rough and tumble, cat eat cat world of business. No, this honor falls to the dogs. In fact, depending on the current state of affairs where you work, you might even be moved to observe that business in general has simply gone to the dogs.
In any event, regardless of your allegiance when it comes to small, four legged mammals, one fact remains clear. No matter what industry you call home or what part you play in the overall effort, the corporate jungle is a highly competitive place. Those who fail to grasp this reality are quite likely to find teeth marks on their ankles.
In fact, I often use battlefield metaphors when referring to the workplace, and for a very simple reason. Like war, business is a competition for territory and resources, often leaving only two groups of people - those who win, and those who lose. Naturally, many people are uncomfortable with that comparison, and for good reason. Conflict and conquest are unpleasant realities, especially when you're on the receiving end of things.
However, unless you're an ostrich, poking your head in the sand and pretending these struggles don't exist isn't a terribly effective way to protect yourself. In fact, since I've seen a few recipes for ostrich soup, I'm willing to bet that it doesn't work out all that well for them, either.
If you don't want your life to be continually inconvenienced by the manipulative or aggressive actions of others, you have to learn to cope with these situations effectively. The first step, therefore, is recognizing that danger does, in fact, exist. Only then are you able to take appropriate measures to ensure that your work and your career will remain unaffected by the ambitions of others.
It might seem overly dramatic to speak of danger in the workplace or illustrate that concept through visions of canine cannibalism, no matter how much the latter might entertain the feline faction. Nonetheless, when you get stuck with countless hours of overtime because of someone else's plan, or watch that well deserved promotion go to a less productive but more politically adept coworker, it gets personal in a hurry.
I was once fired from a job because I ticked off the wrong person. Although the owner of the company felt obligated to back up his manager, he was nice enough to tell me that he knew it was a purely political move. He also pointed out that politics were just as much a reality as any other aspect of a job, and that I was smart enough to know that. He was right about the reality part, but obviously I wasn't smart enough in my youth to realize this or I wouldn't have been fired in the first place. Live and learn.
Because companies are just collections of people, ambition, personal agendas and human nature will always be an undercurrent to the task at hand. That doesn't mean that you have to join the ranks of the politically ambitious or change your core values. It does, however, mean that you must always keep an eye out for the potential problems that manipulative or unscrupulous people can cause, both to your personal career and to the health and well being of your company as a whole.
At minimum, this will allow you to see trouble coming and take the appropriate steps to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. However, awareness of political realities will also allow you to accomplish great things. In the dog eat dog environment of the business world, the alternative is to resign yourself to life as a chew toy.