Organizational Politics for ethical leadershipOrganizational Politics for ethical leadership

Organizational Politics .org

Developing Ethical Leadership for Corporate and Career Advancement



“Politics is how interests and influence play out in an institution.” - Benjamin Franklin


“Important changes that are shaping the nature of work in today's complex organizations demand that we become more sophisticated with respect to issues of leadership, power, and influence.”
John P. Kotter, Power and Influence


“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Lord Acton


“Management is itself a political activity.”
Jeffrey Pfeffer, Power in Organizations


Organizational Politics research findings for coporate performance

Ethical Leadership

ETHICS IS POWER© This finding came out of over a decade of studies and workshops across multiple industries around the world. Below is a baker’s dozen of related 'ethics is power' components which act synergistically to significantly increase personal, team, and organization power and influence. *

When all these related and somewhat overlapping components combine synergistically, they increase the power and influence of individuals, teams, and organizations. Also, most people know that ethical behavior can empower their personal lives as well.

Ethics Is Power because for people who operate ethically their word is their bond. Time consuming and costly written agreements aren't needed.

Ethics Is Power because for people who operate ethically, there are no hidden agendas to worry about.

Ethics Is Power because you don’t have to watch you back.

Ethics is Power because it fosters the development of one of the most crucial success elements for organizations - trust.

Ethics is Power because those known to operate ethically are preferred team members revered as even equal to and sometimes greater than technical competence.

Ethics is Power because operating ethically increases one’s ‘Rep’ or reputation in the firm, a key to the amount of informal influence and power they possess in the eyes of others.

Ethics is Power because ethical people are more resistant to influence attempts from ‘political Sharks’ who use unethical means. The power of those acting unethically is thus dampened and the overall ethical influence is enhanced by comparison.

Ethics is Power because ethics means doing the right thing which often results in doing the right things for the task. Doing things right increases the chances of success and success usually increases power. A bit convoluted but true nonetheless.

Ethics is Power because bosses who believe their subordinates are ethical worry less that they will be negatively surprised by something wrong in their unit. They know the person will tell them if something is going wrong that could embarrass the boss in the organization. Often the result is a boss who is willing to delegate more responsibility to an ethical person, other factors being equal. This can give the ethical person more responsibility and influence.

Ethics is Power because ethical people are less likely to spend precious energy in internal turf battles, both personally and departmentally. This can free up an enormous amount of energy for task accomplishment which versus internal friction. It thus empowers teams and organizations to better serve customers and operate more efficiently. The result can be greater power and influence in the market place.

Ethics is Power because operating ethically can increase personal self esteem. Those with high self esteem often have high confidence which can make them more powerful and influential with others than those with low self esteem.

Ethics is Power because those higher in the organization are more likely to listen to someone they know to be ethical versus someone who they believe are trying to advance personal versus organizational agendas.

Ethics is Power because ethical environments are more likely to bring out peoples’ personal best instead of their personal worst - often the result of unethical environments. When ordinary people are functioning together at their personal best they are often capable of extraordinary performance thus increasing personal and organizational impact and power.

* The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has requested the use of this baker's dozen for their own website.

Recent scandals resulting in the crash of corporations, the non accountability in the accounting industry - including one huge firm whose balance sheet and very existence was completely zeroed out - the lack of ethical direction from boards of directors, the missing ethical wall on Wall Street firms, and now the non insured behavior of the insurance industry have cost thousands of people their jobs and have depleted millions of peoplesí retirement funds whose 401kís held stock in all these firms and industries. How could every part of the supposed checks and balances in business have failed us all?

I believe the answer lies in part to greed, in part to fear, in part to just plain following along with the crowd, and in part because even the smartest people really don’t get how operating ethically gives you power.

For most people, ethics is a ‘should.’ It’s like a Sunday School issue. Yes, we should behave this way. Itís a felt obligation. It is in almost every organizationís value statements. I learned long ago that an organizationís value statement is only a list. The true test of their in-practice value system is watching what happens when two values collide.

When profit and ethics are in conflict which wins out? Johnson & Johnson seemed to get this right years ago when Tylenol was tampered with leaving several people ill. They didnít listen to their lawyers who were trying to prevent lawsuits, they admitted there was a problem and pulled all the product off the shelves.

Another reason is that ethics is seen as a nice - but not a critical thing - to do. It looks good to say it, but it is harder to do it. Competition is fierce. To compete one has to cut costs which often leads to cutting corners. Political 'sharks' put self interest ahead of the organization's interests. For them, as long as it’s legal, it is ethical enough.

They often do not get the difference between operating within the law and operating ethically. As a result, ethics suffers and the firm hires better and more expensive lawyers which actually increases overall costs to the organization. I have been in more organizational discussions than I would like to admit where operating ethically was treated as a cost-benefit analysis problem.

If you raise your hand and say ‘wait a minute, doing the right thing is not about cost versus benefits, it is about doing the right thing,’ you get looked at as a ‘goody two shoes’ rather than as a serious business person.

A third reason is that while operating ethically can make one a good person in the eyes of others, goodness is not seen as a basis of power and influence. There is some evidence that this is even true among those who believe in operating ethically. Operating ethically is seen as a ‘softball’ approach in the ‘hardball’ world of business.

This brings up a related reason having to do with pride. There are some who wear their ethical standards defiantly as a badge of honor even if it means they are seen as less effective than others. Here, pride cometh before the fall or rather pride cometh before loss of effectiveness. ‘I may not have had as much influence and impact as others, but I was ethical, so there.’

These reasons and others blind us to what is obvious in hindsight: operating ethically is not just a Sunday School should, not just a nice thing to do when things aren’t so competitive, not just being legal, not just to be overruled subject to cost benefit analyses, not just a badge of honor for the less effective, but ethics is truly a way to increase power and influence for the individual and organization alike.

However, it is easy to fall into one or more of the misunderstandings of how ‘ethics is power©’. Overcoming the alternative views for the reasons to act ethically can be a difficult task. Then, knowing how to make the most of ethical behavior requires leadership that has the view of ethics as more than the right thing to do.

For people like the politically savvy, the ‘power of ethics’ is obvious as it is for almost everyone who has experienced the effects of ethical behavior from an increased influence perspective. We have found most people intuitively understand this experience. Yet they often don’t believe it is realistic in what appears to be cutthroat competitive business environments. Some others just don’t know how to tap into it.

How to tap into the full potential of ‘ethics is power’ is a key part of the political savvy aspect of leadership. The book, based on decades of studies, tries to act as a guide to make the most of ‘ethics is power’.

Our studies show that almost everyone has this basic ability, but few use it. Far too many ethical people refuse to enter and be proactive in their ability to influence others. They, all too often, are blocked by the strong negative stereotype of organizational politics as manipulative and involving self serving, unethical behavior. As a result they can do the right thing in their local office situation and gain some of the influence benefits of ‘ethics is power’. Yet they often lose out on its greater potential.

The political savvy do not believe in the negative stereotype of organization politics. They know organization politics is a two edged sword. It can be used ethically to cut through bureaucratic red tape and outdated processes, or it can be used negatively to cut down others’ innovative ideas or colleagues standing in the way of a desired promotion.

The Political Savvy view organization politics in a more balanced way. They see it as how human nature plays out in hierarchical settings. As Harry Truman said “Politics is the art of getting things done” and Churchill said, “When you mix people and power, you get politics.” Hierarchies are full of power. Organization politics is how power and interests play out in the organization. One thing is certain, they will play out.

The definition used in the book for political savvy is ‘ethically building a critical mass of support for an idea you care about.’ The political savvy know how to accelerate the trust building process. They use their word as their bond often and keep it.

Working openly for the best interests of the organization, they don't have hidden agendas and can thus play above board. The political savvy use ‘ethics is power’ to go beyond their local situation to influence up and outward across the organization. As a result, their credibility and ethical influence networks are much larger that those of most others.

The political savvy have a much greater chance of making the kind of impact and contribution they desire and to attain career success and satisfaction. The starting point for these outcomes is understanding that ‘ethics is power’.

Mastering organizational politics through Political Savvy is a proven ethical leadership approach that any organization and any individual can use to both influence positive change in an organization and achieve career success at the same time; even when negative organizational politics are severe.

Learn more about using the Political Savvy Advantage™

The Political Savvy Advantage™ is grounded in the hard facts of today’s business realities. Technical expertise is necessary but often not sufficient for success in business. Fortunately, you don’t have to sell your soul to get ahead. In fact, despite those locked into a negative stereotype of organizational politics, mastering organizational politics is a crucial aspect of leadership. The sad fact is how so many intelligent people don’t understand how acting ethically can actually increase their influence. It provides ‘shark repellent’ to avoid becoming victimized by organizational politics. Political Savvy also works with top leadership levels to turn competitive turf wars into collaborative teamwork. It also provides a way to create a realistic productive culture in ever changing global competitiveness.

Preparing for organizational politics and career successNegative organizational politics hampers creativity, productivity, fairness, motivation, teamwork, and a host other critical issues that almost everybody knows but is not allowed to speak about in the official hierarchy. Consequently, business politics is driven underground where people are left to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, most either decide to avoid politics or become a ‘shark’ feeding off the success of others. Fortunately there is another way to respond. Become politically savvy.

We hope you can take a little time to discover for yourself the value of the Political Savvy Advantage™!

Want to learn more about how to advance your career without sacrificing values or ethics? Go to

Dirty Politics vs. Political Savvy
How to do Organizational Politics the Right Way!

There certainly is a dirty side to office politics with brown-nosing, backstabbing, glory-hogging and outright lying can usually be found somewhere in most offices. The key to a successful career is to maintain a good reputation and maintain your integrity while building relationships.

One of the underlying ideas behind the Political Savvy Advantage™ is that it's about moving from a self interest to an enlightened self interest perspective. You want to build your reputation in the organization as a fair and decent player that looks for win-win solutions benefiting the organization overall. Self interest is much more short term: You hit me, and I'll hit you back.

What gives office politics a bad name is employees thinking that only the dishonest, backstabbing, conniving managers will succeed. There are a lot of really good, decent, frustrated people who are stuck. The only people they see doing the influence stuff are the Machiavellian shark types.

(Machiavelli, was the one who argued that rulers should have a reputation for being stingy, know how to be deceitful, and have no mercy for the weak or inactive players ... Haven't we all had bosses who demonstrate those qualifications?)

But Machs won't survive for long if workers with integrity enter the political arena as well. It's hard for a Mach to challenge a politically savvy individual. For the most part, Machs are out for themselves, so their networks are often not that large. A politically savvy person with a good reputation lower down can outmaneuver a Machiavellian.

Most organizations try to build relationships with their clients, Political savvy individuals build relationships all around them.

Successfully playing office politics requires you to join a group -- sign up with a party, basically. (Although your officemates would probably not appreciate being referred to as Whig or Bull Moose.) If you're trying to get something done in the office, you need to be able to go to co-workers as well as people elsewhere in the organization on an informal basis. Politically savvy individuals are as comfortable working in the informal organization as well as the formal hierarchy.

You don't need to brown nose or do anything you are not interested in, like going to your bosses kids concert, most people have enough diverse interests that we can make that connection at work and beyond with comfort and integrity.

An important tip is that administrative professionals represent one of the most powerful sources of information and influence for anyone wanting to have the impact of those considered to be politically savvy.

Organization Politics is just like any other form of politics: People who can be trusted tend to do better, at least in the long run, than those who cut corners. The higher your reputation, the more influence you have in the organization. People want to work for those that are seen as ethical players, because that's where their careers lie.

If you're going to have integrity and form strong relationships, you have to use your political relationships for the good of the company, not for your own benefit. The more you're seen as operating ethically, the more your word is your bond, the more people can count on you. The idea is not to be about your career. Be about something the organization cares about.

Most of the time if you work to make your boss successful your team and organization will have success. The way that you get valued is to really be committed to being part of a team, and build strong relationships.

Again, enlightened self interest is a better way to win the sweeter life by being known as a fair player, to have a better reputation, to have my idea accepted instead of yours and get promoted.


Political Savvy™ Research Findings on Organizational Politics

Abstract: Investigations into Organizational Politics: 1974-2006

In total ~11,000 people have been subjects. The major focus is on its nature, structure, and dynamics, particularly the personal success attributes related to dealing with politics. Other themes focused upon the intersection of organizational politics and leadership, effects of politics on innovation and systemic sources of political behavior.

The heart of these investigations was two key organizational studies which when combined contained ~ 6900 subjects in 9 organizations across multiple industries. Sponsors in the organizations aimed at creating a subject pool representing a microcosm of their company.

Each core study had, at minimum, the following elements: a.) subjects nominated by co-workers, b.) multi rater criteria: each subject had at least three raters who knew the subject, c.) interviews of subjects and raters, d.) internal personnel data: e.g., demographics, performance, and promotion data were linked to subject interview data, e.) dialogue data: compiled after subjects received feedback of the study results, and f.) longitudinal data: biannual follow ups for up to twenty years. Additional sources of subjects resulted from an intervention derived from the two core studies.

The major findings of these two core studies related to the definition, structure, sources, levels, and personal attributes in different structural groupings. The somewhat unexpected definition that emerged was asymmetrical in terms of positive and negative politics.

The major structural groupings for subjects that emerged were the ‘avoiding politics’ group: ~65-80% (this group had three discernable subgroups),‘negative politics’ group: ~15-25% and‘positive politics’ group: ~5-10% of subjects. While people move in and out of the groups. The group structure remained fairly stable.

Main attributes of each group were compiled in categories of mindset, behaviors, and success factors. The most significant mindset difference was the ‘rational systems’ view of the avoidance group and the ‘human systems’ view of the two active political groups.

There was also a major mindset difference between the two active political groups. There was the win-lose, non ethical, upward focus, self interest, competitive, personal gain mindset of the negative politics group, versus the win-win, ethical, organization focus, enlightened self interest, collaborative, best interests of the business mindset of the positive politics group.

In terms of behavioral differences, major ones included the high networking and constant small risking taking of the positive politics group versus the relatively low networking and risk avoidance of both other groups.

The positive politics group had the higher innovation success rates and higher success factor indicators in terms of performance, and promotion. They were more likely to be viewed as leaders than the other two groups.

There were not any major distinguishing factors between the positive politics group and the avoidance group in terms of personality, interpersonal skill, and intelligence. Positive politics seemed to be an ability possessed by most people.

Negative politics did seem to involve an interpersonal skill in terms of manipulative skills such as of impression management in influencing both how they were perceived and how potential rivals were perceived.

Several systemic sources giving rise to organization politics emerged. The most embedded was internal competition resulting from functional or divisional sub optimization.

The common practice of allocating goals when resources and highly valued rewards are scarce was seen as the key impetus for the sub optimization and resulting competition. Other systematic sources included generational dynamics and cultural or informal organization misalignment with the official hierarchy.

The dominant rational systems paradigm operating as a rational meritocracy is both expected by employees and supported by the organization. ’Officially’ politics is considered dysfunctional and in most organizations doesn’t officially exist. Yet, the practical limitations of the rational systems paradigm seemed in ways unintended to be a major factor in creating the existence, structure, sources, and dynamics of organizational politics.

Given the unanticipated finding that most people already seemed to possess the basic ability to practice positive politics but didn’t use it, an intervention was crafted to embody the key findings of these investigations. It was tested with over 10,000 people; ~3200 of these participated in follow up impact studies.

Results indicate that ~ 70% of avoidance group members shifted toward the positive politics mindset with that number declining to where it stabilized at ~30% after about five years.

Based on the results of these investigations, a theory of organizational politics is proposed and is in a separate document. It ends with a more functional view of organizational politics and the steps that organizations can take to attain it.

Want to learn more about how to advance your career without sacrificing values or ethics? Go to

Ethical Organizational Politics for current and future organizations leaders

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"The major value I received from the Political Savvy Seminar was understanding that politically savvy individuals are not necessarily political, but rather ethical and take the opportunity to relationships across all departments within an organization. The true political savvy individual never compromises ethics to justify a means to an end."

Kelly Morrison, Internal Customer Support Manager
Cardinal Health

“I will be presenting a session [on professional ethics and believe] Joel DeLuca’s Ethics is Power baker’s dozen [principles] would be a perfect compliment to my presentation"

Earl Johnson

"I began using Political Savvy as a coaching tool several years ago and find it equally applicable to first time managers and senior executives."

Anita Jensen. Ph.D.,
Vice President Executive Development, Citibank

"The principles from this book have been essential in helping our MBA students understand how to become impact players in their own organizations, no matter what level they are at."

Stewart Friedman, Ph.D., Founding Director of the
Leadership Program, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania

"Understanding the perceptions and reluctance many have to being Politically Savvy has been tremendously beneficial to myself and my team. Dr. DeLuca's insight regarding how facts that support a new idea are 'Necessary but not sufficient' speaks volumes to the work that my team does at NASA. There are a wealth of great ideas at NASA with supporting facts to justify them, but they are not sufficient to take them beyond the idea stage. It takes Political Savvy to understand how the idea supports the NASA mission."

Stephen A. Gonzalez, Project Manager

Political Savvy is the single best book I've read on the human side of leading change. Many of my clients have benefited from Joel's pragmatic approach to making change happen.

Robert Bruce Shaw, Ph.D., Managing Principle,
Princeton MCG Consulting Author of Trust in the Balance, 1998

An excellent book for new and experienced managers alike. It takes readers beyond the negative stereotypes of organizational politics and shows them how to get involved in making changes in their organizations.

Stephen Stumpf, Ph.D.
Dean of Professional Development, Booze-Allen & Hamilton, Inc.

The class sessions based upon the book were such a hit in our Management of Technology program for engineers that we have now incorporated it permanently into the curriculum. This is a must read for all practicing technologists, engineers and scientists.

Dwight L. Jaggard, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Graduate Education & Research,
School of Engineering and Applied Science,
University of Pennsylvania

“During the course of my career, I have worked in every size organization from the federal government to major corporations to small businesses - some of these with seemingly little politics and others as political as they come. No matter what size organization you are in, I would recommend that you put Political Savvy on your "must read" list. How often do workers, whether they are managers or worker bees, find themselves unable to move ahead because they are blocked by organization politics?” … ”This book can make leaders and winners of almost everyone. Political Savvy has many practical ideas and tools to let all of us move through those politically sensitive situations without making our colleagues feel we've stepped on their toes. You don't have to be a "shark" to get ahead and there are ways of even using "shark repellent." The book is a great tool for making the impact you want and gaining career success. It's a quick read though you may want to read it again and again. Don't skip the beginning chapters because they explore some of the basic terms you will find invaluable once you get to the proven techniques used by the politically savvy.”

Vicki Weiss - Amazon Review

"I consider you [Joel DeLuca] a seminal thinker in leadership and organizational development - I can't tell you how often and how much I refer to your 'organizational mapping' concept."

John Baldoni, Author
How Great Leaders Get Great Results

 “A profound and informative look into the corporate mindset of today. An ethical approach to the spirit that dominates a workplace. For anyone interested in surviving in the corporate world this book is "A Must." It is a handbook for success in the often frustrating and chaotic world of the corporation. I am grateful for the valuable insight it has given me. I found it, not only enjoyable reading, but most valuable as well. My gratitude to Dr. Deluca for a very worthwhile and informative creation!”

William F. - Henderson, NC

“Political Savvy is a "must read" for anyone who has ever thought or been told that office "politics" are bad and to be avoided at all costs! Dr. Deluca provides wonderful insight into managing the "machs" and the bosses, that most of us in large organizations have encountered, who must win at all costs. By providing the rationality of the actors in organizational dramas, the book provides practical, easy-to-use methods that enable the reader to increase the probability of creating "win/win" situations that are ethical and satisfying. The book is a permanent tool on my office bookshelf and I have given a copy to one of my friends and another to one of my co-workers!”

Mike M. – Havertown, PA

“Mr. DeLuca has written a wonderfully insightful manual for success in the work place. A lightning fast and enjoyable read, this book will soften the battle scarred heart of even the most jaded and cynical Dilbert fans. The topic is the politics of the workplace, which is undoubtedly the leading cause of employee dissatisfaction everywhere. Joel DeLuca provides a wonderful case for recognizing human nature, and making a positive change in one's outlook to cherish the irrationality of the human organization that presently causes so much frustration and angst for the vast majority." ... "This book provides some practical relief from the pressure of organizational politics, as well as a toolkit to help the reader participate in the workings in a proactive and benevolent way. This book is the culmination of a very sincere scientific investigation, presented in a manner that is not overly academic."

Pat O'Reilly – New York City

“This book really impressed me, and I am in business 35 years in New York City. Politics is a necessary fact in business although many business people will deny this. Joel Deluca emphasizes this and takes the position that within the politics of organizations the ethical principles that drive individual behavior in large measure also drives the outcome. He very astutely identifies a range of personality types and then proceeds to illustrate how effective genuinely ethical business tactics are to advancing individual goals as well as those of the business.

This book should be required study for business school students. I have seen business to business relations go from a handshake is a deal to contracts, in many cases, are not good enough to insure compliance with agreements. Relations among co-workers within organizations, the focus of the book, has not faired better as people spend far more time protecting their job or complicating other's job, than advancing the collective interests of the enterprise. Ethics, in the current business climate are, for the most part, not much more than the expedient adjustments among conflicting interests and justice then becomes substantially in the interests of the strong. Political Savvy powerfully illustrates, with real world examples, that such an understanding of ethics in business is ultimately ineffectual and that unyielding ethical behavior is really the winning strategy.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in sustained advancement in a business career.”

Eric Wood
President - Voice Factory International

“At last, a thoroughly researched, user-friendly, step-by-step guide to becoming a political savvy manager…This [book] tells executives what to do, starting tomorrow morning, to overcome these problems and make constructive change happen.” Our [MBA] students swear by it. So will you.”

Marta Mooney
Fordham University Professor
Graduate School of Business

"I’m a student at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Graduate School attending their 2005/2006 Executive Leadership course. Part of my growth and development is to read three books on leadership based on what my identified weaknesses. Needless to say I was very weak on Office Politics or Political Savvy strengths. I selected your book out of hundreds I could have read to help me with my political savvy and I must say I have learned a lot in last several weeks just from reading your book. In fact I’m not sure why Office Politics or Political Savvy courses are not required in college, this is the kind of stuff that is really needed if one is to advance in the work place and or get things accomplished. For too long, I believed that key decisions were made by intelligent rational individuals. I see now that may not be the case. I’m proud to say now after reading your book, I’ve gone from an “F” to at least “C”, it is my hope that in the next 12 months I can apply some of the concepts and strategies and apply them to my situation and become a more political savvy employee. Great book and thanks for educating me."

Clyde Reid

"[The Political Savvy book] me a practical way to map my environment. I was really becoming a cynic of beating my head against the system. I work in the government and there tends to be more bureaucracy to break through but I need to learn to survive in this environment because I’ve been here too long to branch out into non-government environment. I see your book as showing the big picture on getting your change ideas implemented. I have never been really good with people and felt reassured that only have strong interpersonal skills don’t help you in this process. I know I need to become better with people skills but this book gives me the focus I need to know who to try to influence."

Louis Reid, Project Lead, Quality Production & Logistics, US Navy

"I thought your talk on "Political Savvy" was extremely interesting and well done. In addition to being on the board of ASTD-SCC, I am a member of the Connecticut chapter of the National Speakers Association. That organization has exposed me to many fine speakers, and I think that you are among the best I've seen. Your enthusiasm, content knowledge, and facilitation technique made for an engaging evening. If any of my clients have a need for an executive coach or leadership training, I would recommend you."

Alice Stitelman, Ph.D.
ASTD Presentation June 2005


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