Secrets to Winning at Office Politics teaches the readers to intricacies of office power and how they can increase their power and avoid the most common pitfalls.
I found it to be quite good.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Real Life Applications
- Stop using “playing politics” as a pejorative for other people: we all do it and it’s a key tool to success: so you better get good at it
- Realize that your boss will have a major impact on your life: make it a priority to have a good relationship
- Make friends, not enemies
Marie G. McIntyre says that office politics is not a Machiavellian plot but a normal aspect of work and life. And when you realize that, it will be easier to understand that politics is a key aspect of success.
The Organizational Facts of Life
Marie says that the sooner you accept the following realities, the faster you will go down the road of positive realism in the workplace (and in life):
- Organizations are not democracies
- Some people have more power than others
- Virtually all decisions are subjective
- Your boss has control over much of your life
- Fairness is an impossible goal.
Forget Fairness: Look for Leverage
The author says fairness doesn’t exist and you should look for leverage instead.
She points at a few key levers for leverage, including:
- Power of results
Strong political power boosts your results and strong results boost your political power.
- Power of knowledge
When you become the repository of sought after information and expertise your power increases exponentially.
- The Power of Attitude
Friendly, helpful and cooperative. The type people want to work with.
- The Power of Friends
Here it is for you, simply and life changing: make friends, not enemies.
Friends and allies increase your leverage, fights and enemies decrease it.
- The Power of Empathy
When you can make yourself a trusted person who can listen to people, keep secrets and possibly dispense some good wisdom you will develop a strong network of trusted confidantes.
- The Power of Network
Your network is the total sum of the people you can call for support, help or information. As someone said, your network is your net worth. Also read: Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi.
The author outlines a few typical “political games” people fall into, including:
- Suck-Up Players
They kiss up to managers, pamper them and never disagree with them.
It’s often not a good strategy as many managers are not looking for sycophants and these games often come across as spineless.
- Control Players
They resist what others are telling them to do, either because they are dominators and enjoy telling others what to do, or because they naturally resist and resent outside influence.
Too much control game often degenerates in useless power struggles
- Shunning Players
They isolate and ostracize people from their group for being different or for not conforming to the rules.
- Put-Down Players
They are rude to others so that they can feel better about themselves.
- Scapegoat Players
They always offload the blame to someone else. Their colleague, the customer, the other department..
How People Commit Political Suicide
Marie McIntyre says there are a few patterns with which people kill their own chances in the workplaces.
Some of them are:
- Becoming the problem
When you complain a lot, adopt an adversarial attitude or constantly create problems, then you are only on your superior’s map in connection to a problem.
And when that happens too often, then you become “the problem”.
And the corporate life tends to be short for people who become the problem.
- Negative self-talk
When you develop a negative self-talk and the connected victim mentality, it’s easy to start seeing the environment and toxic and your colleagues and bosses as unfair enemies.
Then you begin to treat them accordingly and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to your demise.
Instead, break the negative self-talk and
- Foolish reaction to change
The authors says that you can either embrace change, look for another place to work or be a pain in the butt and possibly become the problem. The choice is yours.
Jack Welch in Winning says that executives who promoted the change love to see people embracing it and championing. Do that and you will boost your political power and chances of advancement.
Is It You, Your Boss, Or Is It Just a Toxic Environment?
The author dedicates a portion of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics to recognizing whether the problem is you or the environment you’re in.
She talks about the attribution error, which is a psychological bias that leads to blame others for our problems.
To do a correct analysis the author recommends you take n objective, dispassionate look at the environment around you. Are your colleagues happy? Or is everyone complaining and keeping a CYA file?
If you realize you are in a toxic environment the author invites you to change workplace or you can easily transform into a toxic person yourself.
The Four Ps of Power
The author highlights four Ps that you need to address and improve upon to increase your power and political clout.
- Power Assessment: Look at your situation and ask yourself how you can improve your leverage position
- Performance: how can you make your organization more successful?
- Perception: How can you make your work, projects and results more visible to the higher ups?
- Partnerships: How can you make more friends, allies and supporters?
The author outlines very good ideas on how to improve on each of them.
I particularly liked the ideas on improving perceptions, for example by making a report or monthly updated of your daily tasks, thus giving them more visibility. For example the author was in HR and she started recording and categorizing the complaints they would get from employees, thus providing a pulse check to upper management which she eventually presented to upper management.
Parent, Child and Adult Role
The author says that power issues often grow out of the parent and child role that people take in relation to other -instead of the adult role that we should all take-.
Upward relationships become difficult for those who see the manager as a parent because they will either react rebelliously or submissive and overly compliant.
The author writes:
Rebellious employees tend to be oppositional and anti-authoritarian, just like two-year-old and teenagers.
Taking the child role with colleagues result in one of the following:
- Competitive child who needs to win
- Self-sufficient child who plays alone
- Bully who pushes people around
My Note: I love the explanation of child role in terms of over-compliance and rebellion, but on the lateral relationship with colleagues it seemed quite a bit of a stretch and it didn’t convince.
These theories are also non-falsifiable, which makes them non-scientific.
Parent & Child Managers
Parental managers come in two flavors:
- Dominating: overuse direct authority with orders and harsh reprimands. Employees respect authority but usually don’t like tyrants.
- Smothering: see themselves as attentive and scrupulous, but employees usually see them as annoying micro-managers
Child-managers instead are afraid of managing people because they are afraid of being too domineering and not being liked.
Rules For Long Term Success
Finally, I found Marie’s final rules for long term success to be very good:
- Be honest and ethical in all your dealings with people.
We’re not living in tribes and many of us don’t live in small villages anymore. But, eventually, your good or bad reputation will spread. And if people can’t trust you, there goes your credibility and leverage.
- Believe in yourself. If you don’t, why should anyone else?
Insecure people commit all kinds of political faux paus.
- Believe in your work.
It will make a difference in your results, your attitude and your joy for life.
- Do the best job you can.
Most people don’t do the best job you can. It seems crazy to high achievers, but that’s also an advantage of them: it’s easier to climb the ladder.
- Keep your commitments.
So simple and yet so life changing in giving you a strong reputation.
On the other hand, if you want to remain in the limbo of the nobodies, miss deadlines, be sloppy and don’t keep your word.
- Be a pleasant person.
We see out people who can give us good vibes and we avoid those who give us bad vibes.
Be a person that people want to be around and your stock can only go up.
- Feel true respect for everyone.
This is something that you can’t fake it until you make it.
It must come from a place of genuineness.
Real Life Applications
Don’t Let Politics Distract Your From Results
Never allows politics to distract you from your deliverables. All the people saying “it’s who you know, not what you do” are not powerful people. Your results are possibly your best and strongest tool for political power.
Do Learn Politics
However politics can make your life and your ascension much easier -or quite impossible-. Learn to play the political game.
Expose Yourself to Different People
Learning to recognize and deal with different people and personalities is one of the most important skills you can learn to increase your political power.
Dump Your Complaining Friends
If you spend too much time with people who complain about work, make no mistake: that’s no support group. That’s a bitching club that will keep you stuck, unhappy and politically powerless.
Could Have Been Briefer
Some concepts repeat a few times and I feel the book could have been condensed a bit.
The sociopath label is applied a bit too freely.
I loved some explanation of power issues in terms of Freudian terms. However, as it’s often the cause with Freudian theories, it can lead to over-explanation of every issues in terms of child experiences, and I felt this was the case here on a few occasions.
Good Psychological Gold Nuggets
I very much enjoyed how Marie McIntyre psychologically breaks down the issues with some categories of people, like for example the “rebels”. She does applying the Freudian concept of child/parent and I think it works well to indeed well explain some behavior and personalities.
Very good book to get an overview on common mistakes, the importance of politics and how to increase your leverage.
I wished and hoped for more on psychology and power plays when I picked up Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.
There aren’t that many: this is not The 48 Laws of Power or Social Power applied to the workplace.
But that’s also its strength!
It could be easy indeed to get lost in the power games and interpersonal fights and lose focus on what really matters to be effective at office politics.
And among of them are: avoid making unnecessary enemies, do great work and contribute to the organization.
And that’s what Secrets to Winning at Office Politics provide: an awesome overview of power and power in the workplace; the basics of power and how to effectively navigate the political arena.
I can very much recommend Secrets to Winning at Office Politics