Jack Godwin: An interview by Bob Morris

GodwinJack Godwin, PhD, is a political scientist whose appeal spans the political spectrum. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Clintonomics, his previous book, a “must read,” an assessment seconded by conservative Newsmax.com publisher Christopher Ruddy. Godwin has a doctorate from the University of Hawaii and degrees from San Francisco State University and the University of California- Berkeley. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon, West Africa and a five-time Fulbright scholar to Britain, Canada, Germany, Hungary and Japan. He is a fellow of the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy. He has been the Chief International Officer at California State University, Sacramento since 1999. His books include The Arrow and the Olive Branch (2007), Clintonomics (2009), and most recently, The Office Politics Handbook (Career Press, 2013).

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Before discussing The Office Politics Handbook, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

My wife Emilia has had the greatest and most positive influence. I started writing seriously at age 45, two months after we got married. I don’t believe this is a coincidence. Our close relationship motivates me and gives me a lot of confidence. I’m 54 now with three books published and another on the way.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Godwin: I’ve had several great college professors, especially Raghavan Iyer, Edwin Duerr, and Richard Chadwick. All three inspired my scholarship but Duerr and Chadwick somehow recognized potential that I didn’t know was there.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Godwin: I joined the Peace Corps in 1982 and got an assignment in Gabon, West Africa supervising construction of a primary school in a small village outside a small town called Akieni. No running water or electricity, we made our bricks by hand and dried them in the sun. I had a crew of five villagers and drove one of those old-style Toyota pickup trucks. And I had a boom box, a gift from another volunteer who had recently completed his service and a few well-used cassette tapes. One morning, I popped the Temptations Greatest Hits into the boom box and played Papa was a Rollin Stone. My workers started dancing, and then I started dancing. It was a moment of cross-cultural exchange. I decided then and there that, whatever else I did with my life, my career, and my education, it would be international. That’s the epiphany. That’s the promise I made to myself. That was—and still is—my idea of a life worth living.

What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Godwin: When I got home from Africa, I got a job as a salesman in the vacuum cleaner business, which was the same industry my father worked in for many years. Working as a salesman and learning the skills of salesmanship, how to establish a rapport, overcome objections and close the sale are invaluable. I wish everybody else knew these skills.

Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes the power of political skills? Please explain.

Godwin: The Godfather (Part 1) best dramatizes power and politics, as well as strategy. Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) and Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duval) are archetypal characters. In particular, I recommend studying the scenes with the consigliore Tom Hagen and Hollywood mogul Jack Woltz (played by John Marley). No special effects, just two actors playing their parts — being the characters — under the direction of Francis Ford Coppola.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Godwin: This is an interesting point. In Ronald Reagan’s 1989 Farewell Address, he said “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things.” I beg to differ. Reagan was a great communicator and a storyteller, and in some ways a prophet. Bill Clinton is also a great communicator but more of a policy wonk than a storyteller. There’s room for both because as our problems become increasingly complex, our ability to explain solutions must increase in equal proportion.

Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Godwin: This is a question about managing change, which requires persistence. By that, I mean asserting your power in a way that is humble, gentle, and inconspicuous. The most natural example of this is the gentle breeze that blows along the coast in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The wind doesn’t blow very hard, but it blows consistently in the same direction. And this gentle breeze twists and turns the trees into the most fascinating forms. This is how you overcome resistance, through influence that never lapses.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Office Politics Handbook. When and why did you decide to write it?

Godwin: I started writing Office Politics in October 2008. I completed the manuscript for Clintonomics and went on vacation. When I got back home a month later, I asked myself “what’s next”? I’m a political scientist with an MBA, so it was natural to write something about politics for people who work for a living. First, I wanted to demystify politics. Second, I wanted to teach people how to develop their political skills, how to acquire power, overcome the bureaucracy, and work with friends and adversaries alike. My goal is to make the world a better place, one cubicle at a time.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Godwin: At the beginning of the book, I worried if there was enough material for a whole book. I didn’t have to worry, but I did have to go beyond political science into other academic fields such as anthropology, sociology and especially psychology. This led me to Carl Jung, which of course led me to archetypes. Why are archetypes important? Archetypes are symbols in concentrated form, reflections and expressions of our culture and human nature. They are common to the human race and present in all of us, which partly explains why office politics takes on familiar, recurring patterns regardless of culture, location or era. If you work in an organization of any size, for any duration of time, you may notice how people emulate archetypes and inhabit pre-packaged roles, and how the archetypes migrate from one individual to another.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Godwin: The working title was Micropolitics. The publisher said nobody would buy it, quote unquote. And my literary agent agreed! Even though I made a conscious effort to write for a general audience—to write for the market—I overlooked (for a nanosecond) two important market segments: my literary agent and my publisher. This reminds me that book publishing is a collaborative business, which is something I enjoy very much.

Morris: To what extent (if any) are office politics significantly different from politics anywhere else? Please explain.

: I don’t think office politics (or micropolitics) is any different from politics anywhere else. The laws of politics are rooted in human nature. These laws have not changed in thousands of years, since the ancient philosophers of China, India, and Greece first attempted to discover and articulate them.

Morris: Although Harry Truman is often credited with observing, “Politics is the art of the possible,” it was first expressed by Otto von Bismarck during an interview in 1867. What is your opinion of that statement? Please explain

Godwin: The point is that politics is not the art of the perfect, but the art of the possible; the art of the next best. It’s the art of recognizing all the conditions and constraints that make your first choice unavailable without losing sight of your second choice. Once you have eliminated the false ideal, then you can concentrate on the next best solution. This now becomes the true ideal, the new organizing principle upon which you will formulate and execute your strategy.

Morris: How do you explain the fact that, today, the public approval rating of members in the U.S. Congress is lower than ever before?

Godwin: Incumbents have a home court advantage in terms of name recognition and fund raising. The reelection rate for incumbents is very high, which indicates high public approval for individual members. However, public approval for the current (113th) Congress is indeed lower than ever, according to the Washington Post, 12% approval and 85% disapproval. I wonder why it isn’t lower. I mean, why isn’t it 100% disapproval?

Morris: You suggest – and I agree – that politics are deeply rooted in human nature. What is your response to those who disagree?

: Alexander Hamilton (writing in The Federalist Papers No. 78) said you should always take into account “the ordinary depravity of human nature”. Hamilton and his co-authors knew the dark side of human nature all too well and cataloged a long list of human failings, such as greed, conceit, obstinacy, revenge, vanity and thirst for glory. The list goes on. This is why the founding fathers insisted on the separation of powers, for example, and why they wanted to protect religious freedom. They knew somehow, someday there would be religious fundamentalists among us who would confuse their will with God’s will, and try to impose their beliefs on the rest of us.

Morris: I was especially interested in sharing your thoughts about “the gods of micropolitics,” those eight political archetypes that personify “the constituent elements of the anthropo politicus,” the so-called political animal. For those who have not as yet read the book, please identify the defining characteristics (for better or worse) of each. First, The Servant Leader (Pages 132-141)

Godwin: The Servant-Leader archetype leads by example and wins the consent of her followers without resorting to threats of punishment or promises of reward. Knowing how to lead means teaching people do to without you so they can lead themselves. And it means learning not to rely on your job title or your place in the hierarchy to impose your will. Leadership isn’t something you can keep in inventory and it isn’t something any individual has all the time in every situation. Leadership does not depend on your place on the organizational chart, but on the follower’s response.

Morris: The Rebel (142-148)

Godwin: The Rebel archetype personifies the idea that politics involves and even requires at least two oppositional people. The tension of opposites is the motive power of human evolution, which Austrian economist Josef Schumpeter recognized when he coined the phrase “creative destruction” to describe the evolutionary process of change essential to capitalism. The oppositional nature of political relationships implies that a certain amount of conflict, tension and chaos is inevitable in any organization.

Morris: The Mentor (148-156)

Godwin: The Mentor archetype is the counselor, who facilitates, mediates, negotiates and thus acquires great influence over important decisions. There is something very powerful about the mentor-protégé relationship, which may explain why the archetype is replicated in many different situations. Business leaders, professional athletes, entertainers and especially politicians rely on the services of a mentor to help manage their companies, careers and political campaigns. This is a privileged position but not a job title, and thus more precarious than you could guess by reading the organizational chart.

Morris: The Recluse (156-162)

Godwin: The Recluse archetype personifies professional detachment, a quiet determination to withdraw from the world, offering nothing, seeking nothing. The key is to conserve energy by retreating. The Recluse does not yield, but distances herself from her adversary, puts herself out of reach. This is an act of disengagement, not rebellion. The idea is to cultivate the same cool, professional detachment as the medical examiner you see in those popular crime-scene-investigator shows on television.

The Judo Master (162-169)

Godwin: The name for this archetype comes from judo, which translated literally means “the gentle way.” Gentleness is not the same thing as weakness. It does not mean surrendering the initiative, but leveraging force rather than resisting it. Success with this archetype depends on economy of motion, producing the maximum positive outcome with the least amount of effort. Remember, power is a decisive factor only in short conflicts. The longer a conflict lasts, the more important endurance becomes, which can get you into trouble if you overestimate your power and underestimate your adversary’s endurance. The ultimate goal of this archetype is to win without fighting.

Morris: The Resister (169-174)

Godwin: The Resister personifies the individual who may be overpowered, but continues to follow her conscience and refuses to give her consent. Resistance is a personal act because the resister’s primary concern is her own behavior. Resistance may become a political act when it is calculated to change someone else’s bad behavior. Rosa Parks is a perfect example. Before she was a civil rights icon, she was a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama. She was on a city bus one day and refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and the police arrested her. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat began as a personal act and became political when others decided to follow her example.

Morris: The Opportunist (175-182)

Godwin: The first and only principle for this archetype is opportunism, which requires you to take advantage of any unusual or helpful circumstances to mislead your adversary regarding your true intentions. The best example of this is tactical dislocation, which we see all the time in sports: in baseball the change-up to fool batters; in football the draw to fool defenders; and in basketball the no-look pass, which often fools everyone, players and spectators alike. The idea is to distract your adversary, disrupt their plans and exploit their weakness.

Morris: The Survivor (182-188)

The Survivor archetype personifies the individual who has nothing, who has lost everything but never forgets that victory is survival—and survival is victory. This is important when you remember that politics is the art of the possible. It’s the art of recognizing when you have only one choice. It may not be your first choice or your second, not even your third, but it is a choice nonetheless. Every time you choose to survive, you pass a critical test. Which brings us to the old adage attributed to Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To me, the word unexamined means untested, and the untested life is not worth living. The way you test your life is by asserting your power through stubborn endurance, resistance to hardship, and persistence in the face of adversity.

Morris: My own opinion is that the most effective politicians throughout human history had mastered the core skills of each of these eight “gods.” Do you agree? Please explain.

Godwin: In general I would agree. It all has to do with pattern recognition. If you can recognize similar patterns or situations you have encountered in the past, like a good chess player, it is possible to apply similar tactics to the situation at hand. Chess is a combination of one-time calculation and general pattern recognition. As your ability to recognize patterns increases, so does your ability to read the field and read the players, list the alternative courses of action, consider the consequences of inaction, and then make your move—all in the span of a few seconds. This may seem daunting, but this is exactly the skill that effective politicians have mastered.

Morris: In your opinion, to what extent (if any) are there significant differences between politics and political science? Please explain.

Godwin: Political science is the study of power in social relationships. Politics is a social skill whenever people are interdependent and the distribution of power is asymmetrical. What makes it social? There are at least two people. What makes them interdependent? The organization where they work has a goal that requires people to work together. What makes the distribution of power asymmetrical? Somebody has power over somebody else.

Let’s say that a CEO has read and then (hopefully) re-read The Office Politics Handbook and is now determined to establish or strengthen a workplace culture of principled politics, one within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. Where to begin?

You have to turn inward, police your own minor transgressions and get rid of your own bad habits. Why? Because managing office politics is all about self-discipline, self-control and self-mastery. Self-mastery is important for the same reason the break shot in a game of pool is important. If you have no goal in mind and do not care whether you leave the balls in a cluster, touching each other, or touching the rail, then there is no need to master the break shot. Similarly, if you do not care whether you announce to all your employees that the table is open, then there is no need for self-mastery. Self-mastery is synonymous with self-control, but there’s more to it than that because politics is a social affair. Self-mastery precedes leadership. If you cannot master yourself, you cannot model the behavior you want others to emulate.

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Jack cordially invites you to check out the resources at this website.

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