Political Intelligence

by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner

In a nutshell

This topic is presented as something of a journey. First, your awareness may need to be raised as to the existence of politics in establishments and why this comes about. But awareness is not the same as understanding. The latter is addressed with the aid of a model that will help you to identify the types of political animal at large. Only at this point does it make sense to address the skills you will require to become politically intelligent.

1. The importance of perception

What are office politics really about?

  • The covert way of getting things done...
  • Results achieved through informal channels...
  • The use of appropriate skills and strategies...

Two things are crucial to understanding organisational politics:

  • Accepting the importance of people’s perceptions
  • Recognising that we have the power of choice


2. The causes of organisational politics

There are several reasons why organisational politics must be accepted as inevitable in the modern business climate:

  • A climate of constant change
  • Rationing of resources
  • Fewer chances of promotion
  • Confusion due to constant changes
  • Imperfect reward systems
  • New appointments at senior level


3. Tackling negative perceptions

As individuals, we chose to see what we want to see, particularly with regard to how we interpret other people’s activities and decide what is motivating them. The first steps towards political intelligence include

  • Accepting that much of the time we could be mistaken
  • Recognising that others might see our behaviour as politicking
  • Taking steps to avoid misunderstanding


4. The political animals at large

This animal metaphor may help you to distinguish between your colleagues:

  • Sheep are naïve and refuse to play politics or even accept their existence.
  • Donkeys think they know it all, but delude themselves.
  • Foxes are charming and devious, understanding the system and manipulating it only for personal gains.
  • Owls are the political stars, using their win/win skills to help the organisation, others and themselves.


5. The Political Intelligence model

This four-quadrant model uses political intelligence for the vertical axis and goal alignment on the horizontal axis.

  • You will move up the vertical axis as you learn how to use your political skills and knowledge effectively.
  • The horizontal axis distinguishes between individuals who tend to put themselves first and those who find ways of appropriately balancing their own goals with those of the organisation.


6. How Politically Intelligent are you?

If you are to hone your skills, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. This test is designed to clarify your position on the political intelligence axis of the four-quadrant model and point you in the right direction.


7. What are your goals?

Where do you stand on the horizontal axis? This exercise is designed to indicate where your goals lie. The explanations describe the results of typical behaviour patterns.


8. Your profile – the implications

If you’ve done the previous exercises, you should know which animal you are. What does this mean in career terms and what can you do to improve your prospects?

  • The sheep risks being ignored. This can be avoided by becoming more politically aware.
  • The donkey needs to become more politically aware and less self-orientated.
  • The fox may be mistrusted, but can learn to work for the organisation and with rather than against others.
  • The wise owl is aware that there is always room for improvement.


9. Communication – the first key skill

There are several factors involved in becoming an effective communicator:

  • Knowing how to network effectively and where to go for good information
  • Listening and questioning, and striking the right balance between the two
  • Building rapport
  • Being straightforward but discreet


10. Influencing ability – the second key skill

Influencing should be approached consciously and methodically.

  • Be clear from the outset about what you are trying to achieve.
  • Start with a positive mindset; build your support and confidence.
  • Recognise that people are very different in their outlooks and beliefs.
  • Develop rapport with the parties involved.
  • Be alert to others’ situations in, and outside, the workplace.
  • Play to your strengths.
  • Aim for a win/win outcome.


11. Networking – the third key skill

Those who have high political intelligence are invariably well known and well connected. These connections did not just happen by chance. They are the product of time, effort and a keen perception as to whom it would be useful to know.

  • Start from a giving perspective
  • Aim for quality above quantity
  • Keep up to date with your network