Browsing the blog archives for February, 2010.

Another view of org politics

Geek 5, Org savvy

Over at, Beth Weissenberger just wrote an article called How to Win at Office Politicsabout organizational politics. Similar to the thread we have been discussing, she writes that organizational politics are real and everyone plays them whether they intend to or not. Politics are another way of saying that relationships are important at work, just like they are important in our private lives. Weissenberger goes on to describe some tactics for succeeding in politics such as finding a mentor and networking.

Check out her article for another perspective related to our discussions of organizational savvy.

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Reading Power Dynamics part 1

Geek 5, Org savvy

In Survival of the Savvy, Brandon and Seldman discuss two risk points that are especially relevant to geeks – sabotage and power dynamics. In previous posts, we covered the definition of sabotage and how to react to it. In this post, we’ll cover how to read power dynamics and some strategies for dealing with them.

Power dynamics center on who has the power and influence in your organization. Sometimes it is obvious. Official position power refers to people who are high up in the hierarchy and org chart. They have power due to their position. Even so, people with position power have different levels of effectiveness and influence. Sometimes you’ll find a leader who has the title, but functions like a lame duck, because his or her ideas are not valued. Even peers in similar roles can have different levels of influence based on their level of organizational savvy, networks, and of course, their knowledge and competence.

Unofficial influence power is less obvious, because you don’t find it on an org chart. This refers to people who have power without the title. These are people who can make things happen and are considered well-connected in the organization. Sometimes their power is based on having great ideas or a dominant personality and sometimes it is about their network. Part of becoming a politically savvy person is learning to watch and understand individual behaviors and group dynamics. You can identify people with unofficial position power by observing some of the following:

– Who is in the favored, inner circle of the boss or other power players?
– Who always seems to know everything that is going on?
– Who acts an advisor to the boss?
– Who can get away with bending the rules?
– Who can always seem to avoid blame for team issues?

Another group with unofficial influence power is the up and comers, often described as emerging leaders. These are fast-rising superstars who often have access to senior leaders through work and mentoring. High-potential superstars are often very ambitious and aggressive about their careers. Some of them will fall into the over-political bucket. Be wary of anyone who seems focused on his or her own career to the detriment of others and the company.

To effectively read power dynamics, you need to amp up your observation skills. Watch and listen with peers and bosses and teams. Think about situations from the perspective of other folks. Determine their goals and motivations and think abut how those intersect with your own goals and motivations. Watch and think!

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Fighting Sabotage part 2

Geek 5, Org savvy

In this post, we’ll continue with an overview of Survival of the Savvy by Brandon and Seldman.  As we discussed previously, there are many different types of corporate sabotage, and all of them can impact your effectiveness and potentially derail your career.  Now we’ve identified the problem, so what’s the solution?

The first thing to do is be aware that sabotage exists and keep your eyes open for it.  Refer to the previous post for a reminder about what it can look like.

Some additional things will help you put up a defense, so you are less vulnerable to sabotage.

One of those is to be careful about favors.  If someone asks you do do something questionable or to speak for them on a controversial issue, realize that they are intentionally or perhaps unintentionally trying to manipulate you. Sometimes a co-worker will put you into a position to make a risky suggestion or take an unpopular stance.  Once you speak up and get negative attention, he or she backs off and leaves you hanging. 

I had a personal failure in this area in the past.   A  co-worker got me all riled up about an issue.  I was new to the company and did not realize it was a sensitive topic.  I spoke up with great passion about the issue in a meeting with peers and the boss and predictably got struck down quickly.  He stayed clear of the whole issue after manipulating me in to doing his dirty work.  I was under-political and did not recognize the risk.  Now I’m much more careful about what I say and how I say it.  I always make sure that I am representing my own thoughts and not those of someone else.

Another strategy is to stall for time.  If you sense more going on than someone is saying, don’t commit to anything.  Say that you need some time to think about an idea or request and to check your schedule, before you can give a response.  Stalling buys you time to investigate the situation and find out if there is more going on and whether or not you want to get involved.

To fight back against sabotage, you must stop being a victim and an underdog – without becoming overly aggressive or offensive. Some ways to stop being a victim include:

  • Check your self-talk – keep your ego out of the conversation and make sure you don’t fall for taunting
  • Don’t apologize when you are not to blame – it positions you as subservient
  • Use appropriate humor to defuse a situation
  • Use active listening to take the wind out of someone’s anger. Listen carefully and repeat back what you hear. Sometimes the chance to vent can defuse the situation.
  • When facing an accusation, ask for specifics. Don’t accept an accusation of incompetence – ask for specific situations or behaviors that concern someone.
  • Give balanced responses
  • Play hardball when you need to, but do it thoughtfully. Make sure the battle is worth fighting and that you have a chance of winning.

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Geek Fun: Org Savvy Lego Humor

Geek 5, Geek Fun, Org savvy

On some Fridays, I’m gonna try some new things.  Words and writing come easily to me.  Pictures, illustrations and graphics don’t come so easily.  So I’m going to push myself out of my comfort zone and try to tell some of these stories via images. 

In previous posts, we’ve covered the Geek 5, the definition of organizational politics, and tactics for becoming more savvy

This first attempt at visual storytelling is inspired by creative use of Legos by Geekdad at Wired Magazine.

Geek with sword of knowledge

Geek with Sword of Knowledge


Evil guy wins small

Oh no! Evil co-worker defeats Geek


Geek with sword of knowledge and org savvy armor

Geek with Sword of Knowledge and Organizational Savvy Armor


Savvy geek wins!

Savvy Geek wins!

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Fighting Sabotage part 1

Geek 5, Org savvy

There are two specific survival tactics that Brandon and Seldman address in Survival of the Savvy that are particularly relevant to geeks. One is how to deal with sabotage and the other is how to read power dynamics. By nature of being under-political and usually introverted, geeks often struggle with these – and they can be career killers.

Sabotage can take many forms. They describe behind-the-scenes sabotage as occurring indirectly and sometimes so subtly that you don’t even know it is happening. This can include gossip, rumor and bad-mouthing as well as planting seeds of doubt and marginalizing. Marginalizing can occur when a colleague tries to pigeon-hole you. For geeks, this could happen when someone says that you are so good at your technical area that you can’t be spared for a larger executive role. This is round-about sabotage with a compliment about your skills embedded in it – but it can result in you being stuck where you are.

Out-of-the-loop sabotage is also indirect but limits your access to resources and diminishes your impact. It includes withholding information, cutting physical resources, headcount or budget, assignment to corporate Siberia and butt-of-the-joke humor. I’ve seen all of these in play and seen the damage they can cause. In my company, you don’t get a physical reassignment to Siberia. Instead the kiss-of-death is to be reassigned to “special projects” when no projects have been identified. As for humor, I know a VP who constantly teases one of his female direct reports about what a poor performer she is (she is actually quite strong). They’ve worked together a long time, and I believe he does it with fondness. Even so, the outcome is that other colleagues underestimate her and it keeps her at a disadvantage. I think she’s getting frustrated with it as well.

In addition to the indirect types of sabotage, there is also out-in-the-open sabotage. That is easier to detect, but just as damaging. It includes sarcasm and insults; fixing blame; interrupting, steamrolling and freezing out; condescending and patronizing; and testing, tripping up or exposing. One of my colleagues tends to finish other people’s sentences. She doesn’t always finish it correctly. In any case, it is rude and disconcerting and takes attention away from the person speaking. She does it so “sweetly” that most people don’t recognize it as sabotage.

Depressed yet? Yes, it is a lot to think about it. Part of becoming a “power of savvy” person who is balanced politically is understanding and being able to recognize the negative side of corporate life. Once recognized, you can counteract it – without becoming manipulative or losing your integrity. You can fight back and stay true to yourself.

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Fighting the flaws

Geek 5, Org savvy

I’ve described some potential risk factors for under political (UP) people. If you are at risk for some of those, you need to focus on becoming more balanced and moving toward the center of the continuum. With balance, you can have a “power of the savvy” style and have impact with integrity.

To get there, you need to:

– Keep your values but add political skill
– Move from selfless to self-ful
– Add influence and impact to integrity

Please notice that these recommendations never suggest that you need to become a ruthless shark in order to succeed. You need to keep the core foundation of your work ethic and integrity. You should just add some additional skills to your repertoire.

Brandon and Seldman identify a series of savvy tactics:

– Map political styles

– Deactivate your political buttons

– Detect power dynamics, agendas, and unwritten rules

– Know the corporate buzz

– Weave a safety network

– Manage the airwaves

– Promote yourself with integrity

– Pump up your power image

– Address hidden agendas

– Defuse sabotage

 In the next post, we’ll delve into some of these – defusing sabotage and reading power dynamics.  For more details on the rest of these, check out the book.

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Geek fun: Signs of IT Career Trouble

Geek Fun

Over at, they have a funny slide show called “10 Warning Signs Your IT Career is in Trouble”.

Our definition of “geek” is much broader than just IT professionals, but it is still funny. My favorite one is that your current, fast computer gets replaced with a Tandy 1000 in the janitor closet. I’m old enough to remember Tandy computers and the fabulous green monitors!

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Fatal flaw for geeks

Geek 5, Org savvy

Based on the Organizational Savvy Continuum, most geeks are “power of ideas” people who often lack political skills. So what does that mean? Is that a bad thing?

At Geeks Gone Pro, I assume that you are working in an organization like a corporation and that you want to succeed and grow your career. With that in mind, let’s explore the risk factors of the “power of ideas” style. If you are at the far left end of the continuum, you are considered “Under Political (UP)”. As Brandon and Seldman explain, being UP makes you vulnerable to more political people every time there is a competition over power, credit for results, blame, promotions and resources.

UP folks are often naive in organizational interactions. They are often underestimated, because they focus on doing the work in stead of focusing on getting credit for it (remember my personal failure example?). Seeing relationship building as “schmoozing”, they veer away from it and often end up with an insufficient network. This can also result in blind spots about their own image. They don’t worry about promoting themselves and sometimes forget that others are always watching and forming an opinion. They are often seen as lacking executive presence.

With a focus on facts over relationships, UP people tend to lack verbal discipline. They feel they should be free to speak the truth without considering reaction and the impact of the words. This can hurt egos and get others upset, which usually means that the truth gets lost in the emotional reaction. UP people are also described as tending toward “false comfort, easily deceived.” This means that UP tend to ignore the seamier side of org politics, therefore they are more likely to fall prey to it. They could also sacrifice themselves for “the greater good” in a way that comes back to bite them.

UP people can also fall in to the trap of becoming “holier-than-thou” – meaning that they become judgmental and refuse to see alternative perspectives or comprimise. Finally, UP folks can miss important opportunities. They try to follow the rules and follow the stated process without realizing that many deals happen outside of that structure.

If you recognize yourself in some (or all) of these risk area, don’t despair, there are solutions to these risks. We’ll discuss those solutions in an upcoming post.

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The Org Savvy Continuum

Geek 5, Org savvy

To continue our conversation about organizational savvy, I want to introduce you to the Organizational Savvy Continuum that is the foundation of Survival of the Savvy by Brandon and Seldman.

The Organizational Savvy Continuum (OSC) describes two opposite political styles that both have their strengths and risk factors. As with most ideas and styles, balanced is more effective than extremes. The OSC can help you identify your political type and determine how to modify it, so you can be as effective as possible.

At the far right side of the continuum, there is the “Power of Person” style. These folks tend to be political by nature. At the extreme, they focus on position power, image and perception, private agendas, relationships and self-promotion. An exaggerated description of these people would be that they are manipulative sharks who will do anything to accomplish their personal goals.

On the other end of the continuum is the “Power of Ideas” folks who are low in political savvy. These people tend to believe in substance over form, focus on feedback and learning, want to do the right thing and have an open agenda. Perhaps most relevant to geeks, they often believe that decisions should be based on merit and that results and ideas should speak for themselves. In other words, the smartest idea should win.

The less political, power of ideas people believe that power resides in facts, logic and innovation. They are usually technically strong people who love to learn and have intellectual curiosity. With less focus on personal needs, they focus more on the needs of the organization with a strong emphasis on ethical behavior and integrity. They focus on doing an outstanding job and expect the results to gain them recognition. As such, they resist “playing politics”, because the results should be the proof.

Sound familiar? If you have not already guessed, most geeks fall into the “power of ideas”, less political end of the continuum. In the next post, we’ll discuss some of the potential career derailers involved with being a power of ideas geek.

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Telling Reactions to Blog

Geek 5, Org savvy

As I have admitted before, I am a geek myself.  For my undergraduate work I attended a university that was very strong in the science and engineering areas.  I studied the social sciences, but most of my friends were in the hardcore sciences and engineering.  A group of us have stayed close over the years – even though work and family has taken us all over the country.  We generally chat a few times a week via email on a wide range of topics – serious and not so serious.  In the past few weeks, we’ve covered topics from ethics in the Texas courts to barefoot running.

A few weeks ago I decided to use them as a test group for this blog – after all the were the target audience.  I got some telling reactions to the blog that actually confirm some of the points I have been trying to make.

When I directed the group to Geeks Gone Pro, there was a post up that mentioned the “corporate game“.  One person had a positive reaction and indicated that he would have loved to have had that kind of guidance earlier in his career.  He was someone who struggled to fit into the corporate world, but after a lot of pain, he found his groove.  With the right advice, he could have missed some of the pain and found his groove sooner.

Another friend had a strong visceral reaction to the whole concept of “playing a game”.  He said that he refused to play the political game.  He was quite adamant about it.  Looking at his career history, he did opt for smaller companies in which he had more flexibility and that allowed more individualistic behavior.  He did not want to work in a corporate environment and would not have been happy in one.  I believe that politics exist everywhere, so I think he underestimates that.  But as long as he is happy…

I got one other  interesting reaction to the blog.  It was actually an inadvertent networking opportunity.  One of my college friends was connected to a career coach who had done writing and work in a similar area.  He connected us through Linked In and I am very pleased to have the connection.  You never know who might have a connection for you – that is the magic of networking!

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