In our last post, we looked at corporate culture, what it means, and why it’s necessary to engage with. Part of what engaging in your company’s corporate culture will allow you to do is successfully participate in office politics. But what exactly is office politics? According to Dr. Kathleen Kelley Reardon, Professor Emerita of Management and Organization in the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, describes it as being able to acquire what she has termed the “secret handshake.” In her book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the politics of the business inner circle, Dr. Reardon outlines the ins and outs of office politics, and offers creative solutions on how to acquire the necessary skills to partake in the transformational secret handshake. In the next few weeks, we will seek to unpack Dr. Reardon’s revolutionary book as we aim to shed light onto office politics and why successfully navigating it can be a life-changer.
So what exactly is the secret handshake? According to Reardon, it “refers to the acknowledgment one in-group gives another, conveying their shared distinction as members of the business inner circle” (XVII). As Dr. Reardon poignantly states, those who acquire the secret handshake become the “who” in the “who you know” (XVII). Essentially, those who have mastered the secret handshake not only possess exceptional technical skills, but also the extraordinary ability to manage interpersonal relationships.
Political Savvy – A Prerequisite of the Secret Handshake
Political savvy… some might think of it as knowing how to play the game, but it is much more complicated than that. Political savvy can be used by everyone, despite popular belief (there is a reason why it is termed the secret handshake), to break down barriers to the inner circles of an organization. Political savvy is so important to the acquisition of the secret handshake that it beats out job competence.
It is important to define the word politics, as it is often ambiguous in nature and confusing to the best of us. Typically, politics can be thought of as what other people do to get their way. Needless to say, this definition of politics lends it a negative tone. In terms of the business world, politics involves going outside the usual mechanisms to get the job done. According to Dr. Reardon, “…politics as an illegitimate means of getting things done” (2).
Power and Politics
So, how does one acquire this so-called political savvy? Dr. Reardon states that power is simply a resource for getting things done, even in the face of resistance. It is naturally, then, an integrated part of political savvy and the secret handshake – as we stated, engaging in politics is a means to getting our way, even in the face of resistance. The tricky thing about power, however, is that it is often both a means to get ahead, as well as the reward for getting there (Reardon 4). Power, according to Reardon, is at the heart of politics, and may even be the heart itself (5). Power and politics are intimately linked, as if you do not engage with politics appropriately, you risk losing power, and vice-versa.
As Dr. Reardon discusses, political savvy is a skill, not a trait. She states: “…political savvy is an achievable skill for recognizing when politics is operating and for using those politics to your advantage” (7). This is great news for everyone, as anyone can learn to engage with office politics to get ahead; everyone can learn the secret handshake. I hope that this post has given you some insight into the secret handshake, what it means, and why it is important. Next week we will delve further into these ideas when we unpack the notion of political savvy even more.
Reardon, Kathleen Kelley. The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the
business inner circle. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.