Sunday, March 11, 2007


There’s IQ and also EQ. IQ (or Intelligence Quotient) is raw, left-brain type intelligence. EQ (or Emotional Intelligence) is social, right-brain type intelligence. In life, it is not uncommon to see the less brilliant to become the most successful. Researchers argue that these individuals possess the EQ that make them more successful at negotiating organizational politics.

EQ was popularized in the mid 1990s by Daniel Goleman. He argued that:
Emotional intelligence gives you a competitive edge. Even at Bell Labs, where everyone is smart, studies find that the most valued and productive engineers are those with the traits of emotional intelligencenot necessarily the highest IQ. Having great intellectual abilities may make you a superb fiscal analyst or legal scholar, but a highly developed emotional intelligence will make you a candidate for CEO or a brilliant trial lawyer.

Empathy and other qualities of the heart make it more likely that your marriage will thrive. Lack of those abilities explains why people of high IQ can be such disastrous pilots of their personal lives.

An analysis of the personality traits that accompany high IQ in men who also lack these emotional competencies portrays, well, the stereotypical nerd: critical and condescending, inhibited and uncomfortable with sensuality, emotionally bland. By contrast, men with the traits that mark emotional intelligence are poised and outgoing, committed to people and causes, sympathetic and caring, with a rich but appropriate emotional lifethey're comfortable with themselves, others, and the social universe they live in.
I don't doubt the existence of EQ. Its importance is due to the fact that humans are social beings. And social beings always create a hierarchy. And a hierarchy necessarily means the existence of politics.

Taking it a step further, EQ is important because it can help us master the inevitable politics of organizations.

By far the best discourse on organizational politics I have read came from the book “Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge” by Geoffrey Bellman, 2001. The title is intriguing enough and it is a good read.

Here’s what he said about organizational politics (with some editing on my part):
Successful people recognize that politics are inescapable. Politics run through organizations of all sizes from families to villages to corporations to nations. They are not basically good or bad; they are neutral, to do with, as we will.

Political goodness or badness flows from the intent of undermining, giving and withholding, contacting and avoiding. Without the formal and informal political systems that exist in your organization, it would come to a halt. Or, maybe, because of the formal and informal political systems it has come to a halt. Either case demonstrates the power and importance of politics in your organization.

We are not going to be effective if we ignore the politics of the organization.


Politics is the art of getting things done. Politics involves knowing who to work with and how to work with them. If you want to change the system, you had better understand how it works.


You can try to avoid the politics of your organization but you cannot stay outside of politics. It automatically includes you as a force whether you include yourself or not. Others make you a player even when you do not see yourself that way.

Some of our fears about politics come from the reality that it represents large and unknown powers outside our present understanding and control. There are no rulebooks about how to play the political games of your organization. It is unpleasant to be subject to rules you have yet to figure out. To the extent that you understand how the game is played, who makes the rules, and what your role is, you can make better decisions about your actions.


What if politics did not exist? How would things be different? Politics fills the white space around the positions in an organization chart. The real work gets done in the white space. This is where decisions are made, where influences work, where trust is built, where risks are taken, and where persons really reveal who they are.


A good working environment is not achieved by removing politics even if we could. Instead, we need to recognize that we are participants and players, regardless of our desire. The best results for you, as an individual player, come when your values and beliefs are synchronized with those of the organization.

Accept the reality of politics. Do not waste time cursing political realities. Accept the fact that politics are a legitimate factor. Seek to understand it. Test your understanding on others by listening to their political views.

You are a player. You cannot declare yourself otherwise because others will not let you. You may not be playing in the usual sense but you are a player. The role you play if that is your attitude is that of an outsider.

Consider how politics might help you. As you experience minor successes, build up the political support you need to succeed. Take action that is good for the organization while holding on to your personal values. This is important because you have to know what you want. You cannot be happy unless your actions are in harmony with your beliefs and values.


Politics is based on established relations of loyalty and trust. Relationships are established best through one-on-one meetings.

Find shared objectives and desires. Shared objectives and desires give others a reason to meet with you so discover what it is that you want together and need to talk about. This straightforward approach, when it works, undermines unspoken, behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Take the larger, longer view. This is usually the more generous and flexible view. It balances the people whose concerns are more focused on immediate issues and thus have narrow views.

Use openness to counter secrets. Politics often has to do with who talks to whom about what. Negative politics constrains the sharing of information. Develop a bias for sharing information instead.

Learn to tolerate more ambiguity. Loaded political situations often push combatants to adopt immovable positions. Learn to hold your opinion in abeyance while you sincerely explore alternatives offered by others.

Be willing to understand others. This is essential to dialog and breaks down political barriers.

Remind yourself that understanding does not mean agreement. Negative politics often builds distances between disagreeing people. Set up opportunities where disagreeing parties can recognize their shared goals, clarify their disagreements, and explore alternative actions that all can support. Disagreement does not preclude collaborative action.


Remind yourself of the outcomes you want to achieve.

Survey all of your options. Withhold judgment until you’ve surveyed all of your options.

Of the options, which do you want to do? Which do you not want to do? What are you open or not open to doing? This step allows you to consider your politics in relation to other’s politics. This is where your values meaningfully limit the options you will consider.

Decide which path will most likely lead you to the desired results while being consistent with your values. And, finally, after you make your decision, explain the reasons for your actions to others.

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Friday, March 9, 2007


"Our decisions shape our lives. Made consciously or unconsciously, with good or bad consequences, our decisions represent the choices we make in facing the opportunities, challenges, and uncertainties of life."

What makes you effective at your job? Consistently accomplishing desirable results, perhaps?

A manager, much less a leader, is measured by his results. And results are a consequence of the decisions that the person made.

Make a good decision and you can reasonably expect a good result.

Making good decisions is an important life skill. Your decisions shape the course of your professional career and the quality of your personal life.

Many of the thoughts being shared here came from two excellent books, some wise advice, and the hard knocks of my own experiences.

The two reference books are: “Smart Choices” by Hammond, Keeney, and Raiffa (1999) and “How Great Decisions get made” by Maruska (2004).

Both books receive 4.5 stars out of 5.0 in Amazon user reviews.

Smart Choices touts itself as a practical guide to making better decisions and it does a great job of it.

The authors advocate the use of the PrOACT approach, so named for the eight elements that comprise a smart decision. These are:
  1. Problem
  2. Objectives
  3. Alternatives
  4. Consequences
  5. Trade-offs
  6. Uncertainty
  7. Risk Tolerance
  8. Linked Decisions
Notice that the acronym only uses the letters of the first five elements.

The PrOACT approach shows you how to make a best choice among several alternatives. It won’t make hard decisions easy, the authors warn. Hard decisions are difficult because their circumstances are complex and you can ‘t wish these complexities away. The approach should help you handle the complexity sensibly by tackling each complex factor one by one.

That one-by-one process is the way the PrOACT approach works. The first five constitute the core and apply to virtually any decision. The acronym, PrOACT, was chosen to remind us that we should be proactive about making a decision otherwise someone else will decide for us. The remaining three elements—uncertainty, risk tolerance, and linked decisions—help clarify decisions that need to be made in volatile or evolving environments.

The essence of PrOACT is to divide and conquer. To resolve a complex situation, you break it into these elements and think systematically about each one. Focus on those factors that are key to the particular situation. Finally, assemble your analysis and think about the big picture. This method, the authors contend, will increase the chances of making the smart choice. Furthermore, while PrOACT will not make a hard decision easy, it will certainly make it easier.


Pr is for Problem. Define the problem correctly. What must you decide? Framing the decision that you have to make can make all the difference.

O is for Objectives. Specify your objectives. Your decision should get you to where you want to go. A decision is a means to an end. What, therefore, do you want your decision to accomplish?

A is for alternatives. Create alternatives or alternate paths towards achieving your objectives. If there are multiple objectives, select and focus on the most important ones. The axiom for objectives is true for alternatives. Are alternatives necessary? Definitely. If you didn’t have alternatives, then you don’t need to make a decision. Be careful about generating your list of alternatives. Your decision can be no better than your best alternative!

C is for Consequences. Understand the consequences of your alternatives.

T is for Trade-offs. Objectives frequently conflict with one another and that forces you to compromise or seek a balance. In most complex decisions, there is no one perfect alternative. Different alternatives fulfill different sets of objectives. You want to choose the best alternative among the less-than-perfect possibilities. To do so, you need to prioritize the trade-offs between competing alternatives and their consequent objectives.

Now here are the remaining three aspects to consider.

Uncertainties. Uncertainty is risk. Uncertainty complicates decisions but effective decision-making requires that you confront probabilities and possible fall-back alternatives.

Risk tolerance. You should account for your willingness to accept risk, i.e., your risk tolerance. You have to be consciously aware of it. It will help you select the alternative with the risk level that you can accept.

Linked decisions. Your decision today will influence your choices tomorrow. The goals you set for tomorrow will influence your choices today. This means that many important decisions are linked over time. The key to dealing effectively with linked decisions is to isolate and resolve near-term issues while gathering the information needed to resolve those that will arise later. Act in sequence to exploit what you learn along the way so that you can incorporate the lessons you learn as you make choices in the future.

Our decisions shape our lives. Made consciously or unconsciously, with good or bad consequences, our decisions represent the choices we make in facing the opportunities, challenges, and uncertainties of life.
  • Should I go to college? If so, where? To study what?
  • What career should I pursue? What job should I take?
  • Should I get married now, or wait? Should I have children? If so, when and how many?
  • Where should I live? Should I trade up to a larger house? What can I contribute to my community?
  • Which job candidate should I hire? What strategy should I recommend for my company?
  • Should I change jobs? Go back to school?
  • How should I invest my savings? When should I retire? To do what? Where?
Questions mark the progress of our lives and our careers and the way we answer them determines to a large extent our place in society and in the world. Our success in all the roles we play—student, worker, boss, citizen, spouse, parent, individual—turns on the decisions we make.

Some decisions will be fairly obvious. Your bank account is low and you have a two-week vacation coming up. Will you accept your in-laws’ offer of free use of their beachfront condo? Sure. You like your employer and feel ready to move forward in your career. Will you step in for your boss for three weeks while she attends a professional development seminar? Of course.

But the no-brainers are the exceptions. Most of the important decisions you’ll face in life are tough and complex with no easy or obvious solutions. And they probably won’t affect you alone. They’ll affect your family, your friends, and many other known and unknown. Making good decisions is thus one of the most important factors that will determine how well you meet your responsibilities and achieve your personal and professional goals.

The ability to make smart choices is a fundamental life skill.

Most of us dread making hard decisions. By definition, tough choices have high stakes and serious consequences. They involve numerous and complex considerations. They expose us to the judgments of others. The need to make a difficult decision puts us at risk of anxiety, confusion, doubt, error, regret, embarrassment, loss. That’s why it is so hard to settle down and make a decision.

When we make a major decision, we suffer periods of alternating self-doubt and overconfidence. Our discomfort often leads us to make decisions too quickly, or too slowly, or too arbitrarily. We may flip a coin, toss a dart, or let someone else—or time—decide. The result is a mediocre choice that depends heavily on luck for success. It’s only afterwards that we realize we could have made a smarter choice. But by then, it’s too late.

Why do we have such trouble? It’s simple. We don’t know how to make decisions well. Despite the importance of decision making to our lives, few of us ever receive any training in it. We are left to learn from experience. But experience is a costly and inefficient teacher. It also teaches us bad habits along with good ones. Because decision situations vary so markedly, the experience of making one important decision of seems of little use when facing the next. How is deciding what job to take or what house to buy similar to deciding what school to send your children to, or what medical treatment to pursue?

The connection among the decisions you make lies not in what you’re deciding but in how you decide. The only way to really improve your odds of making a good decision is to learn to use a good decision-making process—one that gets you to the best solution with a minimal loss of time, energy, money, and composure.

An effective decision-making process fulfills these six criteria:
  1. It focuses on what’s important.
  2. It is logical and consistent.
  3. It acknowledges both subjective and objective factors and blends analytical with intuitive thinking.
  4. It requires only as much information and analysis as is necessary to resolve a particular dilemma.
  5. It encourages and guides the gathering of relevant information and informed opinion.
  6. It is straightforward, reliable, easy to use, and flexible.
You can practice this approach on decisions major and minor. And the more you such an approach, the more efficient and effective it will become. As you grow more skilled and your confidence grows, making decisions will become second nature to you.

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