Effectively Wielding Political Capital

02/11/2017 05:27 pm ET

You do a favor for someone. Because then they owe you. That’s how it works, right?


You do a favor for someone because it’s the right thing to do. You should expect nothing in return. It’s called being a mensch. Maybe you get something in return; maybe you don’t. But it always works out in the end. I see a lot of different people who try to manipulate situations in order to get a specific outcome.


These days I try hard not to manipulate anyone. But I have. In the end, when people realize that you are manipulating them, they will never trust you again. That is bad. But that is not the only reason to avoid such behavior. Avoid it because it’s just plain wrong. If you can’t win a heart and mind with the truth, don’t bother.

Suddenly then it seems like there might not be such a thing as political capital. But there is. It’s called karma. And there’s no reason you should think about it. Instead, just be a good person. Practice honesty. Be virtuous. Help others. Avoid judging others. Help those less fortunate than you. And you won’t need to wield that political capital, because your actions will guide you and you will prosper in the ways you are meant to.

This does not mean you shouldn’t have an opinion. Nor that you should try to convince others that your opinion is the correct outlook on a given situation. Nor does this mean that you should be weak. You can be strong and have an opinion that isn’t shared with everyone in a given organization. And you can gain political capital by not always having to be right (even when you aren’t).

And if you are a decision maker, you can be the gatekeeper to make sure your part of an organization contributes to the mission of the organization. When others make requests of you, do what’s right. Not just for your budget or team, but for the mission of the entire organization. And when you have needs from others, trust they will do the same – hopefully without setting the expectation that you will need to repay them. You may build trust with others; but neither party should walk away with an expectation of repayment unless negotiated at the time a favor is given. But then it isn’t a favor, is it?

But humans are human. And so power struggles occur. Stay clear of too many. Heed those old adages our parents taught us, like “take the high road.”

Ultimately, we’ve then defined political capital as trust, rather than what you can do for others. Trust is built on merit and cannot be rushed. Your capacity to help your part of an organization (and long term all parts) is then based on the political capital you and your team can build. Which takes time, success, and patience. Remember that, and avoid the mistakes we were taught to avoid in kindergarten, and I think you’ll do great!

Good luck.


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