The discovery that Emotional Intelligence is real and can be learned has produced political issues. At first, there was Social Intelligence, and then, Cultural Intelligence. Now, there is also Political Intelligence (PI). What is it and how does it work?
PI has noting to do with running for office, voting, or political issues like that. It’s about understanding others and influencing them to achieve your objectives, or those of your organisation. Many consider such office or workplace politics as nasty and sneaky. I would argue that they are unavoidable and that it is possible to conduct them with integrity.
The bad reputation of workplace politics comes from two facts. Firstly, those who seem to succeed in them often do so at the expense of others or in ways that seem unethical. But such people only reach short term goals. Secondly, the nature of politics often requires the use of informal channels and indirect strategies that make many uncomfortable. But none of this is necessarily incompatible with high levels of integrity. In fact, character is one of the most powerful modes of non-rational influence.
It creates ambiguity that another name for Political Intelligence is Machiavellian Intelligence. This gives it a slightly sinister tone. Machiavellianism is one of the three points in the psychology of dark triad traits, along with narcissism and psychopathy. There’s a test for Machiavellianism called MACH-IV. You can try interactive, online version here. But what does it mean?
Machiavellian Intelligence is named after Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469 – 1527), an Italian diplomat, political philosopher, musician, poet, and playwright. Machiavelli is most widely known for his book on realist political theory called The Prince. In this sense, someone is Machiavellian if they place political expediency above morality, or if they use cunning to carry out their policies and deception to maintain their position.
The Prince teaches a newcomer how to stabilise his newfound power and build a structure that will endure. He must be publicly above reproach but privately prepared to do immoral things in order to achieve his goals. Machiavelli explains through examples which princes are the most successful in obtaining and maintaining power. The Prince is the first major defense of ‘realpolitic’ – politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations rather than ideological notions.
A more concessionary work that is inspired by and compared to The Prince is Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. It takes the form of a manual which provides laws for those who seek to increase their power in life. This book shares thematic elements with The Prince and quotes Machiavelli, as well as many classical and Renaissance authors. The work aims to illustrate that “certain actions always increase one’s power…while others decrease it and even ruin us.” It has become very popular among hip hop artists and producers.
All this probably sounds dark and not immediately useful. Michael Maccoby might disagree. He’s a psychologist and leadership expert who has made an astounding claim: narcissists can made excellent leaders, if they can overcome their cons. In his book The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership, Maccoby sets out his claim that narcissistic leadership is particularly valuable in times of disruptive change within organisations, as it inspires people and shapes the future.
Narcissism can be unproductive, even destructive, in leaders. What makes it work is Strategic Intelligence, which Maccoby breaks down into five elements:
- foresight – the ability to understand trends, threats and opportunities
- visioning – the ability to imagine and implement an ideal future state
- system thinking – the ability to integrate elements for a common purpose
- motivating – the ability to motivate different people in different ways
- partnering – the ability to develop strategic alliances
If all this sounds a little high level, don’t despair, there’s much you can do. First, you can learn about the different models of influence and persuasion you can use within your workplace. Second, you can read our blog articles on networking and communication. And, finally, feel free to contact us for consultation or coaching work in this area.