Book Review: Political Savvy – Systematic Approaches to Leadership Behind the Scenes

Last year I was thinking hard about how to help people with the “politics” of change.  Many people see “politics” as something to be avoided.  Political Savvy – Systematic Approaches to Leadership Behind the Scenes takes a fresh and extremely rational look at the natural politics of organizations.

What I liked: Dr. DeLuca identifies 9 different “players”, ranging from the passive and cynical to the “active and ethical” players.  This book encourages people to become “active, ethical players” that choose to make a strategic difference in their organizations.  These players are savvy: they know how to identify resistance to change; and they know who can help them overcome that resistance in a way that serves the greater good.  And they assume that organizations are not inherently rational; rather, they are made up of humans that try to be rational but who also operate from a framework of emotions and interests that are uniquely individual.

Following are a couple of tips for “influencing behind the scenes” that I particularly liked:

1.  Dr. DeLuca is skeptical about decision-making in large groups.  Instead, he recommends a “Many-Few-Many-Few ” approach. 

  • MANY: Essentially – brainstorm, but don’t decide – in a large groups.  Large groups tend to be best at creativity and energy – but as many of us know, they are not good at wordsmithing, working though logistics, or weighing the whole against the enthusiasm of a crowd.
  • FEW:  So, bring the options back to a few with authority and responsibility to make the change.
  • MANY: Then – and this is key – bring it back to the whole for comments, input, feedback, and clarity.
  • FEW:  Then, finalize the decision with the same, responsible few.

2.  “Never go into a decision-making meeting without knowing that 51% or more of its participants understand and are open to discussion about the proposed change.” 

  • This is a particularly critical piece of thinking here, and he even says that if it is the one thing that readers take from the book, he is happy.  Essentially – recall a time that you sat in a meeting, and you said, bursting with enthusiasm, “Hey, I think we should do this really great thing!”  And, your fantastic idea was ignored.  Perhaps there was silence, perhaps the group kept going like they hadn’t even heard it, or perhaps someone outright said “That is a terrible idea!”  And then, 15 minutes later, the same idea was offered – perhaps even by the person who said it was a terrible idea – and the group enthusiastically exclaimed, “What a fantastic idea!  Why didn’t I think of that???”  (Yes, you are usually pouting at that point.)
  •  Dr. DeLuca also noted that phenomenon, and there are a lot of probable reasons for that; perhaps an innate adversity to change inside humans, perhaps the political landscape of the moment.  But he says that the dynamic changes entirely when the politically savvy  warm the temperature of the room by introducing the idea before the meeting – to more than half the group.  It is not that everyone has to agree, but by introducing the idea, you help create conditions for a better and more productive conversation – in a way that doesn’t lead to a lost idea, wasted meeting time, or loss of face for you.

The book has been extremely helpful to me as I advise clients within organizations how to manage change, or clients who are engaged in “inter-organizational” collaborations.  The book also contains a system for mapping alliances that is extremely helpful for the champion of change.

I was so excited about his work that I reached out to see if there were a workshop for me to become better trained in his tools.  It was then that I discovered that Dr. DeLuca passed away in 2008.  May he rest in the deepest peace.