Political Intelligence

by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner

Your profile – the implications

If you have completed the exercises in the previous two pages, you will have a measure of whether you are higher or lower on the political intelligence scale and whether your orientation is more towards your own goals or aligned with those of the organisation. You should now be able to see with which animal you identify most closely.

Implications of having a sheep profile

This profile typifies the many honest folk who work diligently and loyally all their lives for the organisation. Unfortunately, this approach is not always rewarded with the success or security it deserves. Crucially, you may lose arguments or have to accept decisions going against you as a result of playing blindly to the rules you believe exist.

Fortunately, there are ways in which you can build awareness of what is really going on around you and raise your political intelligence. These are some of the things you can do quite easily to start the journey:

  • Be more observant of the way in which senior people operate; notice how decisions are really taken in the organisation.
  • Work actively to raise your profile so you are not left out of informal communication processes or bypassed when opportunities occur.
  • Accept that in corporate life things are not always black and white – shades of grey are perfectly normal and acceptable.
  • Face up to the inevitable changes and disruption that typify organisations trying to keep ahead of the competition in this day and age.
  • Accept that the best won’t always win and not all colleagues are as trustworthy as you.
  • Understand that not everyone plays by the rules and the organisation structure does not always show where true power lies.
  • Think twice before taking decisions and statements at face value; learn from previous experiences.

‘It won’t make any difference what I say or think’ is a typical comment from the sheep quadrant. This is a sign of opting out, with all the attendant risks this can hold. So ask more questions, get more actively involved, and cultivate your relationships in the right quarters. Get known for your views and the fact that you have the good of the organisation at heart.

Implications of having a donkey profile

The donkey lacks a clear understanding of the way organisations tick, and focuses on self at the expense of the wider organisation. This could lead to isolation in meetings or decision points. It also carries some risk when dealing with others who possess greater experience of ‘the way things are done round here’.

It is perfectly possible to develop political intelligence and awareness. Consider the following suggestions, paying particular attention to how your efforts could yield mutually beneficial outcomes:

  • Be more observant of the way in which senior people operate; notice how decisions are really taken in the organisation.
  • Work harder at listening to and collaborating with colleagues, particularly in your own team.
  • Be more open and straightforward when dealing with others whose support may be required now and in the future.
  • Try to identify courses of action that will satisfy the goals of the organisation as well as personal goals.
  • Rely less on intuition; be more patient in gathering facts and information and in building the support of others.
  • Don’t move too fast at the expense of going through the formal and informal channels.
  • Ensure your network has owls in it rather than impostors who think they have the inside track but are probably mistaken.

In addition, make time to consider how you might more effectively align your own interests with those of the organisation that is paying your salary. Seek feedback from those who seem better equipped at making things happen without generating resistance. Understand that most organisational goals are worthy of pursuit because, depending on how you achieve them, they will probably be beneficial to you as well.

Implications of having a fox profile

You believe that looking after number one comes first in corporate and organisational life, perhaps because of the way in which successful managers above you appear to behave. You have long since deduced that if you don’t look after yourself, no one else will. You understand the political climate and are aware of both the written and unwritten rules, so you know how to manipulate outcomes. You retain knowledge for personal gain and will readily compromise a colleague to further your cause. You willingly commit to systems such as performance related rewards and the associated focus on personal objectives. You may indeed cite these as the very reasons for some of your actions.

This behaviour often makes you mistrusted. Being more open, particularly with explanations of the benefits to the organisation, would help to avoid motives being suspected. A shift of thinking could bring major benefits. Your political know-how and your energetic pursuit of personal goals could make you extremely successful – provided you just try a little harder to ensure that the organisation also benefits. The following suggestions might lead towards an increase in personal effectiveness and reward:

  • Be more prepared to recognise the strengths of others; involve them and develop them for their future benefit and that of the organisation.
  • Try to be flexible when faced with valid objections.
  • Work harder to involve others, helping to reconcile personal and organisational goals when they appear to be at odds with each other.
  • Seek feedback for the underlying reasons when it appears that others may be closing ranks against you.
  • Avoid putting yourself before colleagues and the organisation; work for win/win agreements.
  • Recognise that if you attempt to stay one step ahead of others, you risk being isolated when you need their support.
  • Be less attracted to power for its own sake and more ready to use it, with discretion, for the benefit of the organisation.
  • Do not be so quick to write people off: managers probably get left with the staff they deserve.

Implications of having an owl profile

At first sight, anyone having the owl profile needs to make few if any changes. However, you are probably wise enough to know that there is always room for improvement – either in your own performance or through supporting others to enhance theirs.

It takes real effort to become a world champion, but even more effort to remain one. Your task is to continue role modelling for others your own commendable views and behaviours. In this way you can make a significant contribution to creating a healthy positive political environment within the organisation, while maintaining your good reputation.

  • Help others to appreciate that striking the right balance between personal and organisational goals makes everyone a winner.
  • Help to create the widest possible understanding of what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour, particularly in today’s organisational environment of competition and constant change.
  • Be alert, if necessary acting when it becomes clear that a colleague always puts self before company, to the detriment of the latter.
  • Work to avoid good staff suffering at the hands of organisational foxes.
  • Acknowledge there is always need for further self development or widening of experience.

Complacency is the greatest danger faced by owls; be vigilant, keeping abreast of developments within and outside the organisation. Opportunities and threats must be monitored and acted upon, using positive political behaviours and political intelligence to the full.