Today's post is on one of my favorite business books, which has a terrible title and an even more terrible cover (who designed this, really?) but is packed with excellent information sure to prove highly valuable to many college grads: Secrets to winning at office politics by Marie G. McIntyre. Get your parents to offer you this for Christmas.
The book highlights 4 political types, based on how their behavior affects their personal and business goals: (i) the Winner is someone whose behavior helps both personal and business goals, (ii) the Martyr is someone whose behavior helps business goals but hurts personal goals, (iii) the Sociopath is someone whose behavior helps personal goals but hurts business goals, and finally (iv) the Dimwit is someone whose behavior hurts both personal and business goals.
McIntyre explains how to develop political intelligence and emphasizes the importance of leverage rather than an obsession about a mythical "fairness" sure to derail your career. She writes: "Perfect fairness is both impossible and irrelevant." Instead, she argues that "leverage [not fairness] is the key to getting what you want," whether it is more money for your division's projects, increased access to top decision makers, faster advancement, or whatever metric you use to define success.
You'll have more leverage if you have results (a documented track record), specialized knowledge (that few people have), the right attitude (friendly and cooperative), empathy (genuinely trying to understand other people's problems), networks, inclusion (including others in your decisions for greater buy-in) and detachment (don't be too emotionally invested in your job).
Further, McIntyre warns against leverage miscalculations and discusses leverage shifts. Use your energy wisely: don't waste it on whining, gossiping, scheming and other low-impact, less-than-impressive behavior. "High-leverage people focus their energy on producing results and building relationships. They concentrate on positive goals and things they can control."
Elsewhere in the book, McIntyre explains how to identify allies as well as adversaries (anyone who stands between you and your goal, whom she classifies into three groups: focused, emotional or vengeful), and what to do about those. She highlights something I have found to be particularly true in my own life and that many students don't realize: "all behavior has a purpose", meaning, people do things because they get a pay-off from those things. It is too easy to say that this person is dumb because she did this or that, which makes no sense to you. But to her it made sense. And if she continues to do it, it is only because it makes a lot of sense to her. You will be at an advantage if you can figure out why. It is worth remembering, in McIntyre's words, that "The way you respond to the people you find aggravating is often a good measure of your Political Intelligence."
McIntyre goes in detail over power games ("Power Game players are either trying to acquire more leverage or flaunt the power they already have... All Power Games are designed to give the initiator some type of advantage over other people"), which are categorized into Suck-Up Games, Control Games, Shunning Games, Superiority Games, Put-Down Games, In-Group Games, Scapegoat Games, Avoidance Games. She also provides helpful hints of a toxic workplace, including "power struggles and power plays are common and ongoing", "management egos need to be stroked on a regular basis", "executives are primarily focused on increasing their power or fattening their purses."
She also warns against committing political suicide by becoming "the problem" (uncontrolled emotion, seeing yourself as the victim), and describes the warning signs of political trouble with various levels of gravity. She further makes the distinction between position power and personal power. To assess the power of one of your colleagues, she suggests questions such as "do people listen when they speak?", "what meetings does this person attend?", "with whom do they have lunch?", "could the CEO find her office without a map?" and more.
McIntyre also suggests diagnosing power relationships through a tool she calls the power grid, developed using two dimensions: level of position and degree of influence. This leads to Power Players (high position, high influence), Persuaders (low position, high influence), Empty Suits (high position, low influence) and finally Weaklings (low position, low influence).
To increase your chance of political success, McIntyre recommends analyzing your work life over the following:
- How can you improve your leverage position? (Power assessment)
- How can your work make the business more successful? (Performance)
- How can you enhance your reputation, especially with those who can help you achieve your goals? (Perception)
- How can you increase your network of allies and supporters? (Partnerships)
She discusses how to sharpen your influence skills, manage your power relationships (thinking of upward, lateral and downward influence), and develop your political game plan. The book is full of helpful tests and quizzes throughout that will help you evaluate your level of political intelligence, assess weaknesses and strengths, and develop strategies to improve. This is a must-have for anyone serious about his or her career.