The Office Politics Handbook: Winning the Game of Power and Politics at Work
Career Pess (2013)
How to survive and then thrive by effectively managing micropolitics in the contemporary workplace
As I began to read this book, I was reminded of another, Jeff Pfeffer’s Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t. For those who have not as yet read it, he observes, “Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about power and will now share with you what I hope you will find most interesting and, more to the point, most useful.” In the Introduction, for example, he suggests that having power is related to living a longer and healthier life, that power and the visibility and stature that accompany them can produce wealth, and that power is part of leadership and necessary to get things done, whatever the nature and extent of the given objectives may be. “Power is desirable to many, albeit not all, people, for what it can provide and also a goal in and of itself.”
Although Pfeffer does not invoke the core metaphor from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” in The Republic, I think it is especially relevant to the various misconceptions about power that Pfeffer refutes. The situation in Plato’s allegory is that people are located in a darkened cave watching shadows dance on a wall. (The source of light is outside the cave.) They think they are watching ultimate realities. Rather, what they observe are images, yes, but also distortions. The same is true of the “just world hypothesis” that the world is predictable, comprehensible, and therefore potentially controllable. Worse yet, it implies that “people get what they deserve; that is, that the good people are likely to be rewarded and the bad to be punished. Most important,” Pfeffer adds, “the phenomenon works in reverse: if someone is seen to prosper, there is a social psychological tendency for observers to decide that the lucky person must have done something to deserve his good fortune.”
I mention all this to frame my thoughts about Jack Godwin’s “handbook,” written for those who want to “win the game of power and politics at work.” The information, insights, and counsel he provides — in my opinion — tend to be less theoretical, more practical than Pfeffer’s but both are convinced — and I agree — that unless and until a person has sufficient self-control (i.e. power) and understands certain realities however painful they may be, that person is highly vulnerable to being controlled by others. Stated another way, without self-mastery, people can become enslaved (as Ernest Becker suggests in Denial of Death) to fulfilling others’ expectations of them.
As a political scientist, Godwin has an insatiable curiosity to understand what works and what doesn’t work during sociopolitical interaction…also why. In 1867, Otto Von Bismarck suggested, “Politics is the art of the possible.” Godwin would add that politics can also be viewed as a “game” with competitors, rules, and rewards. He would also add that it usually has some scientific elements — discussed in his book — that can have decisive impact on the process of competition.
I was especially interested in sharing Godwin’s thoughts about what he characterizes as “the gods of micropolitics,” those eight political archetypes that personify “the constituent elements of the anthropo politicus,” the so-called political animal. Accompanied by my comments, they are:
o The Servant Leader (Pages 132-141)
Comment: Leads by example, earns respect and trust of followers; views leadership as a privilege.
o The Rebel (142-148)
Comment: Often the “devil’s advocate” to any proposed idea or initiative; allergic to status quo.
o The Mentor (148-156)
Comment: Loves to learn and then share knowledge with others; influences with wisdom and sound judgment.
o The Recluse (156-162)
Comment: May often be a principled introvert rather than anti-social; definitely anti-political.
o The Judo Master (162-169)
Comment: Has mastered leverage to exploit weakness or vulnerability; highly resilient and dexterous.
o The Resister (169-174)
Comment: Also principled and conscience-driven; agreement and compliance must be earned rather than forced.
o The Opportunist (175-182)
Comment: Very alert to others’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities; master of timing and exploitation.
o The Survivor (182-188)
Comment: No matter what happens to and/or around this person, this “god” or “goddess” of micropolitics will sustain loyalty and commitment.
However named, these are indeed familiar types within a workforce environment. There are important lessons to be learned from each and Godwin suggests several. It should be noted that the most effective office politicians demonstrate some of the defining characteristics of several different archetypes. Also, I agree with Godwin that “micropolitics is a combination of one-time calculation and general pattern recognition.”
In a workplace as well as in a school or on a school playground, bullying generates a variety of responses from those who observe it. Here’s what Jack Godwin suggests: “First, model the virtues you would have others emulate, especially emotional self-control and professional detachment, which will help you avoid excessive use of force. Second, talk about bullying and encourage others to do so. We need to create [and then sustain] a culture in which people (at least) aren’t afraid to talk about bullying. Finally, when you see it, stop it. Don’t assume someone else will stop it. Make it your duty. Stand up and say That’s enough. Repeat after me: That’s far enough.”
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
* * *
It’s never easy to decide to stop pursuing a strategy. Americans got a reminder of that in President Obama’s speech recently on Afghanistan; it was dispiriting to hear him describe the extended timetable required to remove even just the incremental troops who went in as the surge. But at least Obama did manage to make a decision to scale back. Many leaders faced with a strategy that isn’t working don’t get that far.
Even when things clearly aren’t going right, strong psychological tendencies keep the average leader from admitting it and correcting course. A pathbreaking study by Barry Staw in the 1970s helped to clarify why. In it, MBAs were asked to choose the best R&D investment strategy for a case company; then, they were shown how that strategy played out (disappointingly). In the next round they were asked what to do next: Should they switch R&D projects in midstream, or pour more money into the original strategy? Staw found that the answer differed substantially based on who made the choice in the second round. When the same person responsible for the disappointing first strategy was given the power to decide the next move, it was much more likely that they would choose to stay the course. They were predisposed to escalate the commitment because to do otherwise would be to admit a mistake. (Interestingly, Staw’s paper makes direct reference to the war in Vietnam as a situation where logic might fall prey to face-saving.)
None of us likes to admit to bad decisions, but imagine how much harder that is for someone who has been chosen to lead a large organization precisely because he or she is thought to have the power to see the future more clearly and chart a wise course. The faith of others not only creates pressure, it also infects the leader with the impression that he or she really is powerful enough to make things work out. For proof of how far this self-confidence can go, look to Ellen Langer’s research on the “illusion of control.”
She showed that people have such an inflated sense of the control they personally exercise over their circumstances that they are willing to bet more on gambles when it is their own hand that rolls the dice or pulls a card from a deck. Among leaders, whose beliefs in their powers to intervene effectively have had plenty of reinforcement, that tendency is surely amplified.
And here’s one last piece of research I can’t resist citing in a discussion of why leaders are so likely to double-down on bad bets. Leslie Perlow did a fascinating study of engineers doing software development and observed them frequently using their time in ways that could only make it more difficult to meet their aggressive deadline. Her perceptive interpretation of this behavior was that, while an action that prevents problems goes mostly unnoticed, pulling a flailing project from the fire garners plenty of attention and rewards. Since leaders — like doctors — earn reputations for being great by resolving crises, they may have the same incentive to create the need for heroics.
With all these psychological tendencies acting on a leader’s judgment, it’s a wonder anyone ever manages to pull the plug on an effort that is consuming resources but going nowhere. Only the best leaders can hold fast to the truth that their job is to set strategy and ensure effective execution of it — and that at least half of that job is deciding what not to do. They know they must be disciplined in thinking about what products not to pursue and bring to market, what geographies not to enter, what activities not to focus on at the moment.
Gary Loveman, CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, is someone who gets this. Visiting Stanford one day, he told my class that when he entered the company as COO he reduced most executives’ job scope, because he believes that people don’t do very well processing complex agendas and that success mostly comes from effort focused on the most critical and achievable objectives. Scale this up and you have the notion of comparative advantage, which suggests that companies, regions, and even nations should prune their activities and focus on areas of relative strength.
* * *
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. His latest book is Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer for Harvard Business Review‘s “The Conversation” series. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
* * *
Recently when Cathleen Black resigned after just three months as New York City’s schools Chancellor, many influential New Yorkers decided that the way to analyze the event was as evidence of their mayor’s stumbling.
That’s quite a turn of interpretation for a man who, for several years, seemed to be able to do no wrong. Not that long ago, Michael Bloomberg was being talked about widely as a post-partisan presidential possibility. The fact that the bloom is now off the rose, and constituents are said to be tiring of him, offers an important lesson in power for all of us.
Let’s start by observing the obvious: that anyone who wields great power is bound to rub some people the wrong way, and those disaffected people accumulate over time. They also tend to have longer memories. As Dan Julius, a senior academic administrator now in the University of Alaska system told me years ago, “the things you did that upset people and create enmity live on much longer than what you did that people liked and created supporters.” Thus, the goodwill Bloomberg earned during the successful tenure of former schools chancellor Joel Klein, and for the many things he has done to make New York more economically vibrant and livable, is rapidly degrading. People are already forgetting how he took on budget problems inherited from his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, and helped the city successfully live within its means. Accomplishments seem to have a shorter half-life — at least in people’s memories — than animosities.
This is one reason that leaders need to be “repotted” after a long tenure, believed Ernie Arbuckle, the Stanford Business School dean who did much to put the school on its successful trajectory. He noted that it becomes harder to get things done as resentments build and people get tired of you. Arbuckle stayed as dean for 10 years, then left to become chairman of the board of Wells Fargo for ten years, and after that, chairman of Saga Foods, also for ten years. (It will not surprise you to hear that he thought the right moment to “repot” was after ten years.) But he didn’t see it as only a problem of perception. He also thought that, after a while in a given position, one’s ability to see new challenges and opportunities clearly diminishes.
The problem is that most people, having attained a position of power, are reluctant to leave it and venture into new territory. Often, having racked up accomplishments and seen them celebrated, they are fired up by the possibility that, with a little more time, they could do more. In some cases, they cling to office because their age suggests they will not go on to scale any greater heights. Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld described this phenomenon in his decades-old book, The Hero’s Farewell.
In it Sonnenfeld noted that while some aging CEOs exited gracefully while they still enjoyed wide acclaim, many hung on too long, reluctant to face their own mortality. There was William Paley, the titan of CBS, who challenged his biographer by asking just why he had to die. And there was Armand Hammer, CEO of Occidental Petroleum, who put in place a long-term incentive plan for himself with a ten-year payout horizon — when he was in his 90s. Few executives or political leaders are as wise as UCLA’s legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, who retired after winning his tenth championship — quitting while he was on top.
[To read the complete article, please click here.]
* * *
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. His newest book, from HarperBusiness, is Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.
Here is an article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
* * *
I recently interviewed Chip Conley, founder and CEO of the second-largest boutique hotel chain in the U.S., Joie de Vivre hospitality, for a case study for my MBA class on power. As we went over the details of the case, I got a window into the mindset that’s enabled Conley to achieve the success he has, and insight into why others don’t reach that level.
I asked why he thought it was so hard for people to do things like networking that didn’t seem difficult and were clear paths to power. Conley said that for most people, networking, building social relationships with strangers at, for instance, events and functions, was seen as a task. That mindset held true for many of the other actions required to build power–they were tasks. Tasks, he said, are things like taking out the garbage. You don’t try to develop your “skill” at taking out the garbage, you don’t think much about it, you just do it and get it over with.
However, if you think of networking as a skill, then that mindset changes everything. Skills are things that can, and maybe even should, be developed. You think about how well you are performing skills, you work on getting better, you get feedback, you apply thought, you learn.
The implication of Conley’s insight: the difference between people who build effective networks and those that don’t, the difference between people who develop political skill and grow that skill over time and those that don’t, has much less to do with intelligence or charisma or charm and everything to do with how people see and define what they are doing – as skills or as tasks.
When Lyndon Johnson became the Assistant Democratic leader in January, 1951, he took on what was commonly considered to be a “nothing job.” As described by Robert Caro in Master of the Senate, to LBJ, there was no job that was a nothing job. Johnson developed skill in this new role: skill in counting votes on pending legislation, skill in scheduling non-controversial bills for action, skill in raising money to help members’ political campaigns, skill in getting legislation through the House of Representatives. Johnson used this “nothing job” as Senate minority whip to build favors and a reputation so that when the Democrats took control of the Senate, he became the youngest Senate majority leader.
Most management consulting professionals think the road to the top is through doing your consulting job well. Getting asked to set up a seminar series to bring in outside speakers from government and the nonprofit world looks like a task that’s irrelevant to your job. But one former student saw in this task an opportunity to build skill–and contacts. Skill in discerning the interests of senior partners, skill in building bridges to outside speakers and organizations, and skill in organizing an interesting seminar series that would help the firm learn more about the opportunities for public sector and nonprofit work. By approaching this assignment as an opportunity to build skill, this consultant increased his visibility in the firm and wound up with much more interesting assignments.
So here’s some practical advice: the next time you find yourself at some meeting or event, the next time you get what you think is a boring, trivial assignment, consider how your mindset affects your approach. Chip Conley is right–there is a big difference in what we do and what we learn depending on whether we define some activity as a task or a skill. As a consequence, our ability to build power and influence derives as much from how we think about our activities as from our abilities.
* * *
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he has taught since 1979. He has authored or co-authored 13 books on topics including power, managing people, evidence-based management, and the “knowing-doing gap.” His most recent book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t, was published by HarperBusiness (2010). He has lectured in 34 countries and has been a visiting professor at London Business School, Harvard Business School, Singapore Management University and IESE in Barcelona. Pfeffer has served on the board of directors of several human capital software companies as well as other public and nonprofit boards.
The design thinker, in the words of novelist Saul Bellow, is “a first-class noticer.”
(from The Design of Business by Roger Martin).
Here’s a quote from Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power – Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t:
Watch those around you who are succeeding, those who are failing, and those who are just treading water. Figure out what’s different about them and what they are doing differently. That’s a great way to build your diagnostic skill – something useful in becoming an organizational survivor.
Pay attention. Keep paying attention. Those who pay careful attention really do have the advantage over those who go through life in some kind of oblivious fog.
I will be presenting my synopsis of Power at the January First Friday book Synopsis.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by John Baldoni for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
* * *
If you want to lead others, you need to get comfortable with the concept of power. In my experience, emerging leaders sometimes stumble over the use of power for one of two reasons. Either they are too comfortable with it and wield it ruthlessly, or they are so fearful of it they avoid it completely.
Leaders must strike a balance. “The sole purpose of power,” as the great 17th century Jesuit philosopher Baltasar Gracián [click here] wrote, “is to do good.” That is as an effective approach because it gets to the nature of what leaders must do: achieve positive results for the organization.
This prescription may be altruistic, but it is not a prescription for avoiding the tough issues. Leaders must often make decisions that will cause pain to individuals, but those decisions should always be undertaken with the intention of helping the organization succeed.
Using power appropriately is the secret to leading effectively. Here are some suggestions (adapted from my book, Twelve Steps to Power Presence, click here) on how leaders can apply power to enhance their ability to get things done — and done right.
Decide when to lay off power. It’s true that sometimes you can be more effective by not using your authority. Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, once told The New York Times he had to tell people, “You’re doing it my way,” between 7 and 12 times annually. If he did this only three times, the organization would lack discipline; if he did it 18 times, good executives would flee. As long as the decisions your people make are consistent with the mission and values of your organization, allowing them to make their own decisions increases your own authority and credibility.
Know when to use power. While you want to push decision making to the front lines, there will be times when you need to make a big decision. Making that call will mean you have to exert power. So make the decision and communicate it so that everyone understands its implications and what they need to do to support it.
Follow through with power. Decision-making is the first step. It is up to the leader to bring people together to implement it. When organizations fail, it’s often because people end up doing their own thing — instead of the right thing. They become distracted by competing priorities and fail to follow through on their commitments as a consequence. Leaders who use their power to make sure decisions are executed in a timely fashion ensure that the initiative won’t lose focus or momentum.
The concept of power carries with it lots of baggage. Anyone who has worked in a large or mid-size organization has likely experienced the wrong end of a decisive power struggle. Likely you, your team, or your boss has lost a major argument and as a result received rough treatment by the victor. Power has been used to punish you and as a result you may be wary of using it yourself.
If you are intending to lead, however, use it you must. Remember the bitterness you felt when it was used vindictively against you, so that when you wield power you will do it with a degree of authority coupled with grace. Acting magnanimously is the soft side of power, one that establishes your humanity and enables you to lead with even greater authority.
* * *
Jeffrey Pfeffer has much of value to say about the use and abuse of power in his latest book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t, as does Robert Sutton in his latest book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best…and Learn from the Worst.
* * *
John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and speaker. He is the author of nine books, including 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. His latest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up. See his archived blog for hbr.org here.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Although women now attend college at a higher rate than men, and have for the most part closed the gap in achieving advanced and professional degrees, women are not occupying the real power positions in corporations, academia, or the professions in anywhere near the same proportions as men. Catalyst, among many other organizations, bemoans this reality. The fact of the underrepresentation of women at the top begs the question of why. One part of the answer is women’s reluctance to embrace power.
The evidence shows that women are less power-oriented than men. Women have more negative attitudes toward holding power, they are less likely to pursue power-based influence strategies, they are more bothered by and disfavor hierarchical relationships, they are less motivated to dominate others, and they are less likely to take actions to attain power. Moreover, in situations such as salary negotiations, studies show that women often believe that they deserve less than similarly qualified men and are, as a consequence, likely to demand less and to press their salary demands with less vigor.
Women bank too much on likeability. To be sure, people in general overestimate the importance to their influence of being well-liked, and underestimate the effectiveness of displaying anger, but women seem to be more susceptible to these beliefs than men. And while men, too, are sometimes uncomfortable with the actions required to attain power — building relationships with useful others, displaying confidence, engaging in self-promotion, being willing to work long hours — women, as a rule, tend to be less willing to make the trade-offs required to attain positions of power. As a consequence, many women, including talented graduates of MBA programs, reach a point several years into their careers where they decide the compromise isn’t worth it, and drop out of the quest for power.
Two implications follow.
First, women must make more of what they see as trade-offs. Everyone, men and women, must make certain sacrifices to achieve power and career success. If women want to achieve power at the same rate as men, they will need to be willing to make difficult choices, whether by forgoing family for work or choosing a partner in part on the basis of whether that individual will be supportive of their power quest (“strategic marriage,” as a former student of mine put it). Second, women need to get tougher. It’s true that women tend to be perceived more negatively and be less liked when they use the same power strategies as men. (This is an unfair reality that Alice Eagly has referred to as “the double bind.”) But there is little evidence to suggest that those strategies aren’t just as effective for women.
Carly Fiorina reached the CEO position at Hewlett-Packard because throughout her career, she was willing to market herself. Although Meg Whitman at eBay presents a kinder exterior image, people who crossed her suffered consequences. No one who witnessed former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher aggressively holding her own in a media interview could doubt her confidence and refusal to back down from a conflict — or could question where her nickname, “the Iron Lady,” came from.
Although we might wish that the rules for attaining power were different, or different for women, they aren’t. There’s no question that women are as qualified as men to hold positions of power. I would argue that we need them to do so. The question is: when will they step up to the pursuit of power, vigorously and strategically?
* * *
To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. His forthcoming book from HarperBusiness is Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.