Review: Political Dilemmas at Work

I was eager to read the book, Political Dilemmas at Work: How to Maintain Your Integrity and Further Your Career, by Gary Ranker, Mike Phipps, and Colin Gautrey.  An avid reader of works on leadership, teamwork and management theory, I have found scant wisdom on the question of what to do in case of a train wreck, and was hoping Political Dilemmas might offer perspective on options available when you see that your organization is heading for disaster, and no one else seems able or willing to acknowledge the situation.

The book is organized by scenarios based on various political dilemmas that are reasonably expected to occur in the workplace.  Within each scenario, Ranker et al. identify particular situations that could arise, and offer a number of steps of “Action to Take.”  It concludes with a section on “A New Charter for Career Success.”

The insight I appreciated most had to do with the explicit and implicit contracts associated with working in an organization. Aside from the explicit contracts, the authors note, “there are also psychological contracts that are more about trust and truth, than deadlines and budgets. They are more about motives, support, and commitment than they are about what and when.”  This insight helped me to realize that a particularly painful train wreck that occurred at one of my places of employment happened in part because many of my colleagues and I had different terms for the implicit contract than the employer did.  I had erred in thinking that the terms of the implicit contract included mutual respect, teamwork and a level playing field. For me, this was the most significant element of the analysis from Political Dilemmas.

While Ranker and colleagues offered the insight above that applied to my interests on the train wreck question, overall, I was disappointed in the lack of substantive analysis. I was also disappointed in the quality of production, with respect to editing and grammar.

For the most part, Ranker et al. proceeded from assumptions that were common sense if not profound, such as:

  • “Good bosses would rather have debate than compliance.”
  • “Acknowledge and reward people who continue to be candid at times when trust and truth are threatened.”
  • “Spend less time fighting adversaries and spend more time with your trusted stakeholders.”

In constructing their hypothetical scenarios, the authors sometimes manufactured rigid circumstances that seemed to reflect their view of the only course of action that could occur, or the only motivation that might result in a course of action. Sections that were over-manufactured in this way distracted me into thinking of situations that were alternatives to the rigid circumstances described in their analysis.

In addition to being underwhelmed by the analysis, I was disappointed by poor writing and production. This book could have benefitted from the services of an editor.  An occasional typo or editorial oversight in a book is distracting; when they occur throughout, it detracts from the quality of the work overall.

Examples of editorial issues are abundant.  On two occasions, the word “loose” was used when “lose” is what was intended.  The somewhat casual modifier “hugely” was used three times in rapid succession. The introductory material included frequent use of the phrase “politics is…” The phrase may be stylistically acceptable, but when it is used in overload mode, combined with other grammatical errors, such use seems to be another example of poor grammar.  My conclusion that this was an indication of careless grammar was reinforced by use of “one criteria”; if there is only one, it’s a criterion. In several sections, the authors use an informal style of address which left me puzzled as to whether they were speaking to the reader, and hence using the pronoun “you”, or talking with the reader, using the pronoun “we.” That both usages occurred within one section made for awkward reading. Other production distractions that should have been caught by a good editor include inconsistent formatting, such as varying spaces between bullets and leading text, and the use of outlines – or not – for text boxes.

Due to the unremarkable analysis, careless editing and poor grammar, this is not a book I recommend.

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