The Office Politics Handbook: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: October 25th, 2013 by bobmorris

Office PoliticsThe Office Politics Handbook: Winning the Game of Power and Politics at Work
Jack Godwin
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 .”

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