🗳 Political Capital

In the workplace, political capital refers to the accumulation of resources and power built through relationships, trust, goodwill, and influence between team members of the same organisation.

Daniel Jarjoura
Daniel Jarjoura

Let's talk about Political Capital.

💡
In the workplace, political capital refers to the accumulation of resources and power built through relationships, trust, goodwill, and influence between team members of the same organisation.

🤔 Why you should care about it

"Similar to the photograph of a game of marbles or poker which would fix the balance sheet of the assets, marbles or tokens, at a given moment, the inquiry fixates a moment of struggle in which the agents bring into play, at every moment, as a weapon and as a wager, the capital that they acquired in the previous phases of the struggle and which can imply a power over the struggle itself, and therefore a capital held by others." - Pierre Bourdieu, French sociologist, in La Distinction.

It is inevitable for any organisation that reaches a specific size, usually around 150 employees (Dunbar's number), to generate office politics. In such organisations, every team member has a certain amount of political capital they can use to influence decisions and start projects. The deliberate accumulation and spending of political capital is the number one indicator of an individual's success and career growth in an organisation.

😫 Problem(s)

Unclear distribution of power in the company —> some people seem to have more influence than more senior colleagues.

Little to no leeway —> most decisions come from (high) above with no involvement of line managers.

Unfair promotions —> promotion rules are unclear or unfair, with some hard workers not rewarded as much as other colleagues.

😃 Solution

In large organisations, every team member accumulates political capital according to the organisation's culture. This political capital, also called credibility, can include formal authority (position, credentials) and informal authority (relationships, performance achievement, mindset). In healthy organisations, formal and informal authority have a high correlation.

To accumulate political capital:

  • Create and nurture a network of stakeholders within the organisation, especially within the "business" departments;
  • Consistently achieve objectives AND communicate them to key stakeholders;
  • Build an internal personal brand associated with solid expertise and a business mindset;
  • Identify the (usually hidden) elements of your company's culture and behave accordingly.

How you can spend political capital:

  • Make high-risk - high-reward decisions on projects, budget, or hire;
  • Asking for forgiveness when making mistakes.

💡 Key Concepts

Office politics —> involves using power and social networking within a workplace to achieve changes that benefit the organisation or individuals within it.

Social Capital —> defines the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular organisation, enabling that organisation to function effectively.

Credibility (Ethos) —> the ability to inspire trust based on inherent trustworthiness and expertise.

Personal branding —> refers to the conscious and intentional effort to create and influence one's public perception.

😡 Detractors

"Office politics are dreadful, dangerous, and unnecessary." —> office politics are not inherently evil. They're inevitable, perhaps indispensable, to any large organisation. It's better to play the game rather than to suffer it.

"Politically-minded colleagues only serve their personal interests." —> it's true, but it's also possible to do positive politics, to help the organisation and oneself.

"I don't have time to build relationships or communicate internally." —> then make time for it. As a leader, it's also part of your job to accumulate political capital, at least for your team, if not for yourself.

📚 Top book

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie

🗂 See also

🧩 Organisational Design

🎭 Team Rituals

⛓ Conway's Law

📝 Top content

📝 Political Capital in the Workplace: What's in your wallet? - Noel Calhoun

📺 The Best Way to Play Office Politics (Harvard Business Review) - Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback

📝 4 Tips to Gain Influence in Your Organization (KelloggInsight) - William Ocasio


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Daniel Jarjoura

Helping CTOs scale their team and grow as leaders | Founder @ The Unicorn CTO | Solopreneur