The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Basics
by Rick Brenner
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. 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
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See also Workplace Politics and Ethics at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 2: That Was a Yes-or-No Question: Part II
- When, in the presence of others, someone asks you "a simple yes or no" question, beware. Chances are that you're confronting a trap. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for dealing with the yes-or-no trap. Available here and by RSS on September 2.
- And on September 9: Holding Back: Part I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior? Available here and by RSS on September 9.
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