Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 42;   October 21, 2009: The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Basics

The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Basics

by

Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times, it's especially important to distinguish between true opportunities and high-risk adventures. Here are some of the attributes of desirable political opportunities.
Lion, ready to spring, in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.

Lion, ready to spring, in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. The lion is an opportunistic predator, selecting prey individuals as chance presents them. Their exact algorithm is unknown, but factors that enter her decision probably include the availability of cover, the vigilance of the prey, the disposition of other members of her pride, and the urgency of the need to feed.

Your decision to pursue a particular political opportunity will also depend on an array of factors, including some of the items mentioned here. But certainly there are others: how close you are to retirement, how healthy the company is, and your ability to find jobs elsewhere, to name just three. What is your personal decision algorithm? Photo by Richard A. Muller.

As you navigate the politics of your organization, opportunities occasionally come your way. Evaluating them can be challenging. What criteria do you apply when you decide whether or not or how to pursue an opportunity? Here's Part I — the basics — of a set of attributes that make some political opportunities more attractive than others.

You consider it ethical
If pursuing the opportunity is consistent with your sense of ethics, you'll feel better about it however it turns out. If pursuing the opportunity violates your sense of ethics, your pursuit might extract an emotional price. Over time, as you accumulate a collection of transgressions of your own ethical code, the burden can become difficult to bear. Staying within your own ethical boundaries can be the most comfortable path.
You actually want it
Every opportunity requires something from you. It will be work, after all. If you strongly dislike what you would have to do once you secure the opportunity, or if you're strongly averse to it for some reason, the chances that you'll be glad about getting the opportunity are slim. Performing well will be difficult unless you actually want the opportunity.
Your organization cares about it
Some efforts aren't truly central to the overall goal of the organization. They get funded anyway, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps someone with clout wanted it done. Or perhaps an external agent (a customer, a government or a partner organization) exerted undue influence to make it happen. Such opportunities aren't as helpful to you as opportunities that the organization really cares about. The truly valuable opportunities are aligned with organizational goals.
You have a significant edge
Maybe nobody else has yet spotted this opportunity. Maybe you are the best positioned to pursue it. Maybe it requires a skill set that's uniquely yours. Or maybe the people who are aware of the opportunity lack the network connections that you have. Whatever your advantage is, it gives you a significant edge.
Support from above is low risk
If you require assistance from above, the opportunity is more valuable if the people who help you aren't at risk, even if an unfavorable outcome materializes. They usually have a lot to lose, and if an unfavorable and threatening outcome looks likely enough, these allies or mentors might have to abandon you. Devise a strategy that protects these assets.
If you require assistance
from above, the opportunity is
more valuable if the people
who help you aren't at risk
It increases your range of options
You'll be happy if you pursue the opportunity and you secure it. But what if you don't secure it? If the result is a political configuration that leaves you with more options and more desirable options than you had before, you've made progress.

We'll turn our attention next time to the finer points: evaluating information sources, political considerations, favorable failures, and more.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Threatened and fearfulThe Costs of Threats
Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.
Bison on the U.S. National Bison Range in MontanaEmpire Building
Empire builders create bases of power within the larger organization. Typically, they use these domains to advance personal or provincial agendas. What are the characteristics of empires? How can we navigate through or around them?
The game of chess, a strategic metaphorNasty Questions: I
Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather, they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.
Red Ball Express troops stack "jerry cans" used to transport gasoline to front-line units during World War II.Inappropriate Levels of Regard
The regard we have for others as people is sometimes influenced by the regard we have for the work they do. Confusing the two is a dangerous error.
Male peponapis pruinosa — one of the "squash bees."Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences. Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.

See also Workplace Politics and Ethics at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A wolf pack, probably preparing for a huntComing June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
A meeting of a small team working to resolve a serious matterAnd on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.