Political Intelligence

by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner

What are your goals?

It is entirely up to you whether you choose invariably to put yourself first or try to align your goals with those of the organisation. However, there are implications to being seen as predominantly own-goals orientated, so it is useful to consider these in the context of the political intelligence model. The two elements that follow provide you with typical political issues; your answers will determine where your goals are mainly directed.

Exercise

Go through the statements in elements C and D and make a note of those that you agree with.

Element C

  1. It is justified to use covert methods to get things done.
  2. It is critical always to make a good impression.
  3. It is wise to avoid risky projects that may jeopardise my reputation.
  4. I frequently use informal channels to achieve my personal goals.
  5. Achieving my goals sometimes requires being economical with the truth.
  6. Divide and rule is sometimes an effective way of getting things done.
  7. I should only be judged on my own achievements.
  8. There is no room for underperformers in my organisation.
  9. Defending my own goals is always a priority.

Element D

  1. I frequently make others feel valued by recognising and appreciating their work.
  2. I use influence rather than tell/persuasion to ensure the team achieves their goals.
  3. I willingly adapt my style when dealing with different types of people.
  4. I am open to movement on issues clearly more important to others.
  5. I ensure that others understand the politics that go on around here.
  6. People who are organisationally naïve need my guidance and support.
  7. I take into account people’s feelings when giving feedback to improve performance.
  8. I have a responsibility to help others be clear as to what is expected of them.
  9. The goals of the organisation are just as important as my own.

Explanations

If you have agreed with more statements in element C than element D, you are primarily interested in your own goals – at least this is the way your colleagues might view it. Check the explanations below and consider why you did not agree with more element D statements and also why you chose to agree with those particular statements in element C.

If you had a higher score in element D, it suggests you attempt to align your goals with those of the organisation. However, you will still benefit from addressing the explanations to any element D statement you disagreed with and also reconsidering any element C statements that you did agree with.

Element C – own-goal orientated

  1. If you use covert methods to get things done, in all probability you will eventually be found out. People will then interpret your behaviour as secretive, which may lead to misinterpretation and colleagues coming to the wrong conclusions. This in turn leads to mistrust about anything else you say or do. Additionally, people may feel that they are excluded, which implies that they are not valued.
  2. Avoid putting too much emphasis on self and image, particularly if this is at the expense of others. It’s equally important to make others look good, as this builds trust, teamwork and confidence. Continuous attempts to make a good impression may be seen as an artificial mechanism to get noticed; your efforts should be backed up with action and results.
  3. This is clearly the view of somebody who puts themselves first and the organisation second. You will be seen as selfish, self-centred and not having the long-term interests of the organisation at heart. Opting out for the wrong reason may reduce trust levels. Sometimes you have to take a risk for the good of the organisation, but accept that there is personal risk also.
  4. Informal channels are part of organisational life, but using them for your own goals only will be seen as selfish and others will be concerned about your motives. Making information available to all parties (stakeholders), leads to greater clarity, fewer misunderstanding and wider goals.
  5. This behaviour may cause people to believe that you are being selective and signals that there could be other information that remains hidden, leading to mistrust. People need all the information to make sound decisions and telling only a part of the story could result in poor quality decisions that may come back to harm you.
  6. Those that have been divided will be wary of you next time; you will not be seen as a team player. This may also reduce your flow of information. You could be perceived as a ‘bully’ – will people want to work for you, support you, or provide information in the future?
  7. Most organisations can only function and succeed on the basis of teamwork and cooperation; perhaps you are taking individual accountability too far. Others may well see you as selfish and only concerned about your own goals, leading to a lack of trust, now and in the future.
  8. If you ‘write someone off’, others will see you as ruthless and possibly not interested in the wider organisation, where this person could have a useful role to play. Most people have a range of skills that could be used elsewhere in the organisation.
  9. Defend your own corner by all means, but be careful that this is not interpreted as counterproductive to the wider goals of the organisation. Colleagues will ‘gang up’ if they consider that your priorities are no higher than theirs. You might force others to ‘go underground’ with their opposition. You will be less likely to get feedback on yourself and your views, which will hinder future performance.

Element D – aligns own and organisation’s goals

  1. If you make people feel valued in this way, they will be more motivated, have more energy and talk about the organisation in positive terms. You will thus be seen as a more effective leader/manager. People may well want to work for you and walk the extra mile when the going gets tough. Communication between you and your staff improves and you have the potential to enjoy more effective working relationships.
  2. Influence is a ‘pull’ strategy; tell/persuasion is a ‘push’ strategy. The latter may well be useful in an emergency or when time is short, but it often has a number of unfortunate and unhelpful side effects:
  • When staff are not involved in the process, commitment and buy-in will be lower
  • Staff may perceive you as dictatorial
  • Staff may perceive that you don’t believe they are capable.

Using influence appropriately helps staff feel involved and able to make contributions to solutions. Commitment levels increase and you stand a better chance of effective implementation. Team members will contribute skills and knowledge you might not have personally.

  1. A flexible approach shows that you are focusing on others’ needs as well as your own, with the sub-text that you care. Inflexibility can be perceived in many negative ways, not least as a lack of skill. When you are flexible, communication becomes more effective, leading to less frustrated staff, and you are seen in a better light.
  2. If you are open to movement on issues that are clearly important to others, you are signalling that their agenda is just as important as yours. You are also perceived as a good listener and open to suggestions and ideas, so people get fully involved. Giving them permission to challenge issues may lead to better decisions. Being open to movement signals that you haven’t yet made a decision, nor are you merely going through the motions of discussion which would signal manipulative intent. It also encourages others to do the same where you are concerned.
  3. If you ensure that others also acquire political intelligence, then you will be perceived as a highly capable manager and coach. This leads to trust between you and colleagues, allowing better and more cost effective decisions to be reached quicker. Staff frustration reduces and their learning and motivation increases.
  4. Guiding and coaching the organisationally naïve reduces time wasted, increases confidence and everybody wins. Your support will not only prevent them from becoming victims of organisational politics now, but may very well provide you with future allies and support.
  5. Taking people’s feelings into account when giving feedback is critically important; they have to be ready to receive it, and timing is everything. Too close to a situation and they may be feeling exposed, worried or elated, so will they really be listening to your key messages? To bring about behavioural change in others, they must be receptive to the advice, welcoming it as a genuine contribution to their future success.
  6. Assisting others to be clear puts you in a supportive and positive position and builds trust. If people are not clear about their role, task or responsibilities, productivity falls dramatically. It could also impact on your own effectiveness, so not helping others is counter-productive. Making sure others are clear is also an organisational issue because, for all functions to be effective, all need to be clear.
  7. Putting energy and time into reconciling your own and the organisation’s goals provides a basis for achieving the best possible outcome for both you and the organisation. Those who are only interested in their own goals will be seen as selfish and possibly not to be trusted. If everybody put their own goals first, imagine the knock-on effects for working relationships, productivity and competitiveness.