Eliot's Ramblings

Debugging the Boss: The Politician

The Politician’s main concern is making their bosses and peers think they are doing a great job, and are responsible for every success they can claim, regardless of reality. They are cousin to the Glory Hog, but are far less destructive than them, because their goal is to create a successful environment for themselves. Also, their behavior is driven by confidence, not under-confidence. They are not threatened by their reports’ accomplishments, because they intend to take credit for them. This means that as long as they look good, they don’t mind if other people do too.

General Behavior: Politicians are social creatures, and embody many of the qualities that make good leaders. They are well-liked by their peers, because they invest time in those people they think will make them look good. They speak well and have a natural sense for knowing what people want to hear. They are so attuned, however, that they often seek advancement through this capability alone, putting the good of the team and their mission second.

Behavior in meetings: The Politician will often keep their team out of external meetings, like the Isolationist. This helps them say one thing to their team and another to other stakeholders. Sucking up to the boss is by no means limited to one type of person, but the Politician is particularly adept at it. Watch for them to agree with the boss' position when they are around, and qualify this agreement in private with their team.

Impact on team: Often their desire to look good leads them to commit their team to impractical goals, but then privately blame them when those goals are not achieved. Their team members will catch on to this eventually and go from adoring their manager to loathing them.

Another impact they can have is to allow high performers or those with great potential to languish if they are not outgoing and charming, because they don’t help the Politician look good. This is the opposite of a manager’s charter – their job is to find those diamonds in the rough and polish them up.

Impact on product: Thankfully the Politician is not a product killer, but they have a near-certain likelihood of keeping it from reaching its potential, because their dedication is to looking good at all times, even when it means they agree with a decision that results in a poor outcome, or making no decision when it would ruffle the wrong feathers.

Trait gone wrong: The ambition to be a key player; also the desire to get along with important people.

Debugging: As with other corrective measures, positive reinforcement is better than negative. Show how their powers can be used for good, rather than ill. Use a positive way to talk about this, by explaining that when politics is used in the service of a goal other than naked ambition, it becomes diplomacy.

Not to be mistaken for: The Isolationist, who seeks to keep their team under the radar for protective reasons. Or the Glory Hog, who may play politics, but is motivated by fear.