Politically, What Type Of Animal Are You?


Recently I met up with a friend that I used to work with in a large scitech company. The aim was a general catchup but by chance we got on to two topics we normally wouldn’t have discussed (at least in detail): the need to be politically-savvy in large organisations and Feynman (the topics were not connected). I’ll write on the latter topic in a later post.

As part of this we chatted about the Baddeley-James model of assessing political skills, which I’d not heard of before.

The basic idea is that you can broadly classify people into four groups and the animal moniker is given to make the descriptions telling and memorable (see picture above). I mean who wants to be called a donkey, or (less so) a sheep?

Here are the general characteristics:

Donkey – inept
: typically says:
 ‘Let’s decide what we want and make it look like what they want’
, ‘Well, we all know how he got his job, don’t we?’ etc

Owl – wise
: typically says:
 ‘How are we going to get this sorted out?’
, ‘I wonder what’s lying behind these ideas?’
, ‘Let’s look at the ways we can speed this up and get over the difficulties’ etc

Sheep – innocent:
 typically says:
 ‘Could we get on with the main task of this meeting?’
, ‘Well in strict hierarchical terms, I think it’s X’s decision’ etc

Fox – clever
: typically says:
 ‘Leave it to me, I’ll have a word with him, he’s out of touch’
, ‘I think it would be unwise for me to take this one, it’s very delicate. How about you… you know how good you are’ etc

So, if you find yourself saying any of these phrases, have a think!

If you’re ‘stuck’ in an organisation and feel you have more to give but it’s not working out, then having an honest appraisal of your political skills might be a useful step forward. This is perhaps especially true of technical people who may not always appreciate (the rather complex) soft factors often involved.

For more details, there’s a copy of the original paper (1987) by Baddeley and James here (see end of post) and there’s a good recent writeup here.

Picture credit: here.

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