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Developing Political Savvy

with Todd Dewett

Video: The importance of political savvy

Discover how to develop political savvy and influence at work.
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Developing Political Savvy
Video duration: 0s 14m 2s Appropriate for all


In this short course, author Dr. Todd Dewett shares his secrets for developing and utilizing political savvy to get more done at work. Take a look at the success formula at work—what defines "success" in your workplace? Once you understand the social landscape and how political capital works, then you can learn how to audit your own situation and make an action plan to improve your political savvy.


The importance of political savvy

(light xylophone music) Todd:Here's a formula for success that might surprise you. Your continued continued success at work is a function of your past achievements, your general likeability, your friends at work, and your political skills. You'll notice I didn't include IQ in the formula. That's not to say IQ isn't important. General cognitive ability has long been known to be a key success factor at work. But not as much when you get into the leadership ranks.

Think about it, the higher you go in the hierarchy, the more everyone tends to be bright. Sure, there is some variability, but the higher you go, the less variability you see. So, let's think about these components. First is achievement. By that, I mean your education, all of your work skills, and all of your work accomplishments. Achievement very often gives you momentum, which makes your next success even more likely. Because it predisposes others to view you and treat you favorably.

Then there's likeability. Whether you agree with it or not, success at work isn't about a meritocracy where everyone is perfectly rewarded based on the quality of their performance. There are factors other than your professional performance that factor in significantly to your success. Being likeable is one of the biggest. If you were born with a likeable personality, or if you learn how to engage certain behaviors, such as helping behaviors, you can become more likeable. And when you're likeable, people want you involved.

Next are your friends. At work, people usually find others with whom they naturally fit. People with whom they develop natural friendships. Again, it might not be meritorious, but you can sure bet that friends often look out for friends. That's why many people say, "it's not "about what you know, it's about who you know." Now please hear me carefully, your ability is what matters most. I'm simply sharing other variables that add to or take away from the potential your ability affords you.

Finally, we have political skills. This involves your ability to make new connections, understand coalitions, and use political information when making decisions. This is by far the most misunderstood and neglected of all the success factors we've mentioned. That's really unfortunate, but how it got this way is pretty well-known. The first reason is all about our education system. In the US and most other countries, we simply don't spend much time at all teaching young students about the people-related skills that will make or break their careers later on.

As a direct result, men and women at work want to believe that resources are distributed purely based on merit. When, of course, there are all kinds of interpersonal dynamics at play. The final reason is that people often think political behaviors are somehow negative or in the extreme, unethical. This is not true. You know how they say a few bad apples ruin the bunch? That's what happened to politics at work. A few honestly unpleasant or unethical people have tarnished otherwise normal and useful behaviors.

I know that many of you wish you worked in a pure meritocracy, but you don't. Even in truly high-performing workplaces, you only approximate a meritocracy. There are still relationship-based political behaviors that affect most outcomes. Now here's the good news, politics is not a dirty word. Success at work is about understanding the dynamics of decisions and the interactions of the people who surround you every bit as much as understanding the work processes and tools you use everyday.

It's about politics and building your strategic thinking skills. And skills are things you can learn, so let's get started.

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