Political mastery

Six Pillars of Political Mastery by Colin Gautrey

The following was written and published by Colin Gautrey, it’s fresh off his blog and worth a read if you’ve ever been baffled by politics. Thanks, Colin Gautrey

Like it or not, politics is a key part of your work, especially at middle to high levels in large or complex organisations. There is simply no way of avoiding it.


Because your work was created by political ambition. At some point, someone thought it would serve their purpose if they created your role. What that purpose was, and how pure it was might be difficult to see.

In all probability, that person also had to overcome opposition to create your role, to win the budget, the approval and also, to maintain it.

All of these things require influence or politics. The words are really the same, as are the actions. The main difference between them is the intent fuelling the action – and the harmful consequences tolerated.

So, you are slap bang in the middle of a political world, like it or not.

To avoid it, deny it, or simply stand and watch it, is clearly an option. And, an option that a great many people take, or rather, fall into. Why, because they don’t like it. Most, in my view, don’t like it because they cannot see what is really happening, why things are working the way they are. This knowledge gap means they become tentative or foolhardy in their actions.

Tentative politicians don’t last any longer than foolhardy ones!

Having specialised in this area for a long time now, I thought it would be useful to share a new structure that I have created that lays out a route map. A way to move from being afraid, tentative and well, clumsy in the political world of work to one of high levels of confidence, calmness and swift and accurate action.

The Six Pillars of Political Mastery

  1. Motives: You need to learn what makes people tick. Everyone around you has an agenda, and you need to become acutely aware of the motivations of those most able to help or hinder you. Not only the overt drivers but those hidden beneath the surface in their emotional world. You have to know what people are shooting for, or what they are avoiding.
  2. Contexts: You need to pull the pieces together. No man is an island, and this is especially so in the (seemingly) chaotic world of influence and politics. What is going on around you is going to have an impact on you, and the same is true of all the other players. So you have to be able to spot the connections, the patterns and the factors that others need to take account of.
  3. Strategies: Need you need to work out how people are playing, or rather, how they intend to move towards their goals, their agenda. Trouble is, you have to look for the imperfect, the stupid as well as the rational. Why? Because not everyone can see the perfect picture, nor arrive at the perfect strategy. Ignorance of strategies is no excuse if you want to master the politics.
  4. Conclusions: To a greater or lesser extent, at this point, you should be able to see what is going on, what people are driving for and how they are aiming to get there. Now you need to draw conclusions and consider your options. What could you do to advance your own agenda? How would this impact on the political environment? Will you excite interest, or even, hostile reactions? Keeping a cool head at this point and starting to clarify your approach will yield big returns.
  5. Decisions: Enough analysis, firm decision making is vital. Being unclear as you step up the action is not tenable. If you want to maintain integrity, build reputation and make your mark, getting this part right is worthy of an investment of time, and potentially courage. Mind you, if you’ve done a good job on all the other elements, you’ll not be needing too much courage, just the confidence to get on and take the necessary action.
  6. Actions: They speak louder than words, and in political environments, they have to come in very fast. Once you’ve made the decisions you need to execute without delay on your plan. That doesn’t mean you rush things, you just do what needs to be done at the optimum time. Any delays mean that other people will have more chance to move the goal posts, change their strategies. So swift decisive action is the order of the day.

There is, of course, a great deal of legwork behind each of these.

Regardless of your level of capability at any of the six, you still have to invest in building the right sort of relationships to yield the political intelligence needed. But, once you know how the processes behind each of these six pillars, you just need to complete the picture, relevant to you, your situation and your goals.