Adapted from The Office Politics Handbook: Winning the Game of Power and Politics at Work © 2013 by Jack Godwin.
Office politics, like chess, is a combination of one-time calculation and general pattern recognition. As your ability to recognize patterns increases, so will your ability to read the field and read the players, defend yourself and make the workplace better for everyone around you: your friends, colleagues, even your boss.
Here is a brief summary of the eight political archetypes from The Office Politics Handbook:
1. The Servant-Leader: This archetype leads by example and wins the consent of her followers without resorting to threats of punishment or promises of reward. Knowing how to lead means teaching people do to without you so they can lead themselves. And it means learning not to rely on your job title or your place in the hierarchy to impose your will. … If people don’t respond favorably and voluntarily, there is no leadership. No exceptions.
2. The Rebel: This archetype personifies the idea that politics involves and even requires at least two oppositional people. … The oppositional nature of political relationships implies that a certain amount of conflict, tension and chaos is inevitable in any organization. This presents a particular challenge for Rebels, who may take pride in placing themselves outside conventional society – especially after extended periods in opposition – and risk becoming members of the permanent opposition.
3. The Mentor: This archetype is the counselor who facilitates, mediates, negotiates and thus acquires great influence over important decisions. There is something very powerful about the mentor-protégé relationship, which may explain why the archetype is replicated in many different situations. Business leaders, professional athletes, entertainers and especially politicians rely on the services of a mentor to help manage their companies, careers and political campaigns. This is a privileged position but not a job title, and thus more precarious than you could guess by reading the organizational chart. …
4. The Recluse: This archetype personifies professional detachment, a quiet determination to withdraw from the world, offering nothing, seeking nothing. The key is to conserve energy by retreating. The Recluse does not yield, but distances herself from her adversary, puts herself out of reach. This is an act of disengagement, not rebellion. … For some people, particularly those who have trouble disconnecting from the Internet, putting the Recluse archetype into practice can be a monumental challenge.
5. The Judo Master: The name for this archetype comes from judo, which translated literally means “the gentle way.” Gentleness is not the same thing as weakness. It does not mean surrendering the initiative, but leveraging force rather than resisting it. Success with this archetype depends on economy of motion, producing the maximum positive outcome with the least amount of effort. … The ultimate goal of this archetype is not to prevail in every conflict, nor to demonstrate your dominance, but to preempt conflict and thus win without fighting . This is the gentle way.
6. The Resister: This archetype personifies the individual who may be overpowered, but continues to follow her conscience and refuses to give her consent. Resistance is a personal act because the resister’s primary concern is her own behavior. Resistance may become a political act when it is calculated to change someone else’s bad behavior. Rosa Parks is a perfect example. …
7. The Opportunist: The first and only principle for this archetype is opportunism, which requires you to take advantage of any unusual or helpful circumstances to mislead your adversary regarding your true intentions. The best example of this is tactical dislocation, which we see all the time in sports: in baseball the change-up to fool batters; in football the draw to fool defenders; and in basketball the no-look pass, which often fools everyone, players and spectators alike. … The idea is to distract your adversary, disrupt their plans and exploit their weakness.
8. The Survivor: This archetype personifies the individual who has nothing, who has lost everything but never forgets that victory is survival – and survival is victory. This is important when you remember that politics is the art of the possible. It’s the art of recognizing when you have only one choice. It may not be your first choice or your second, not even your third, but it is a choice nonetheless. Every time you choose to survive, you pass a critical test.
Jack Godwin is a political scientist, a former Peace Corps volunteer and a five-time Fulbright scholar. He has been the chief international officer at California State University, Sacramento, since 1999.