Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: Notes & Review

secrets to winning at office politics book

Secrets to Winning at Office Politics instructs the readers of the intricacies of office politics, career strategies, and effective self-promotion for career advancement.

Bullet Summary

  • 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

Full Summary

About the Author: Marie G. McIntyre is a carer coach specializing in career advancement and success, and she runs a consulting service for people seeking advice.
Her approach is that politics are nothing “bad”, but a normal aspect of work and life. A normal aspect, as well as a crucial one for your career goals.

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):

  1. Organizations are not democracies
  2. Some people have more power than others
  3. Virtually all decisions are subjective
  4. Your boss has control over much of your life
  5. 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.

Political Games

The author outlines a few typical “political games” people tend to stick with, including:

  • Suck-Up Players

Their strategy is to have the best possible relationship with the boss by kissing up to him, pampering him, and always agreeing with him.
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.

Also read:

How People Commit Political Suicide

Marie McIntyre says there are a few patterns with which people kill their own chances in the workplace.
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 corporate life tends to be short for people who become the problem.

  • Negative self-talk

When you develop 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 author 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.

Also read:

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 “cover your ass” (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.

They are:

  • 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 you can improve for each one of them.
I particularly liked the idea of improving perceptions, for example by making a report or monthly update of your daily tasks, thus giving them more visibility.
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 others -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: Great observation
I love the explanation of child role in terms of over-compliance and rebellion.
This is also a great insight from transactional analysis.
But on the lateral relationship with colleagues seemed quite a stretch and it didn’t convince me fully.

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:

  1. 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.

  1. Believe in yourself. If you don’t, why should anyone else?

Insecure people commit all kinds of political faux pas.

  1. Believe in your work.

It will make a difference in your results, your attitude, and your joy for life.

  1. 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.

  1. Keep your commitments.

So simple and yet so life-changing to help establish 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.

  1. Be a pleasant person.

We see 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.

  1. 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.

secrets to winning at office politics book

Real-Life Applications

  • Don’t Let Politics Distract You From Results, But…

Don’t allow politics to suck all your energies away from your deliverables. People saying “it’s who you know, not what you do” are rarely powerful and accomplished. Your results are one of 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.

CONS

  • Could Have Been Briefer

Some concepts repeat a few times and I feel the book could have been condensed a bit.

  • Sociopath Label 

The sociopath label is applied a bit too freely.

  • Freudian Labels

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 issue in terms of childhood experiences.

PROS

  • Great Overview of Career Strategies

A very good book to get an overview of common political mistakes, and career strategies for personal success.

  • Great Psychological Profiling of Office Player

I very much enjoyed and liked Marie McIntyre’s psychological profiling of different kinds of office players.

Review

When I picked up “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics” I thought I was going to get some sort of “hand to hand” combat guide to do well at work.

But this is not The 48 Laws of Power applied to work, and that’s also its strength!

The author skips many of the power players to focus on general power principles and the core fundamentals of what really matters to get ahead: make friends instead of enemies, and deliver great work.

I can very much recommend Secrets to Winning at Office Politics

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