It is Mainly Political Skill that Gets People Promoted in Business

It is Mainly Political Skill that Gets People Promoted in Business

My friend Klaus Templer has recently published an article, here

I am recommending this easy read!

Have you ever heard a complaint like “It is always the wrong people that get promoted”? I have heard that before.

I don´t work in an environment that has promotions but many of my peers from university do. Some of them are complaining about “toxic characters” that have even overtaken them in their career. Don´t forget, I am talking from the perspective of an 54-years-old. My peers from university should now – 30 years after graduation – be board members of their companies. If they did not make it until now they won´t become board members during the rest of their lifes. The question arises whether they were not promoted to be a board member because they are not competent enough or because their personality is “too weak”.

When people say “too weak” they often mean “not toxic enough”.

But, in very short words, is not true that you need to be toxic in order to be promoted. Klaus says that what helps most are political skills.

And the good news is that, while demonstrating political skill is easier for some,  political skills can be learned.


Toxic Characters

This is how Klaus defines “toxic” people:

They might be deceitful and unscrupulously manipulative (what psychologists call “Machiavellian”); or impulsive and thrill-seeking without any sense of guilt (psychopathic); or egotistically preoccupied with themselves, having a sense of grandiosity, entitlement, and superiority (narcissistic). Employees with one or more of these three personality traits, known as the “dark triad,” are more likely to cheat, engage in fraudulent or exploitive workplace behavior, and make unethical decisions.

Of course, if you are a humble, honest and agreeable character, it can be frustrating to watch such people get ahead.


This is Why, given Their Toxicity, they Rise Through the Ranks

Klaus´ suspicion was that it must be their political skills that let toxic characters succeed in business positions.

Political skill is defined as a positive social competence that helps people network, influence others, demonstrate social astuteness, and appear sincere in their dealings with others.

Klaus´ scientific evaluation is published here. You can get the full article if you search its DOI “” at Sci-Hub.

This is what he writes:

… I looked at the influence of political skill among employees.

I surveyed 110 employees in Singapore in a variety of industries and positions, asking them how they viewed their political skill in the workplace. I also determined their scores on the H-factor of personality. High scores on the H-factor indicate honesty-humility. Low scores are practically identical with the common core of the dark triad. Finally, I also surveyed these employees’ bosses.

I noticed that toxic employees whose political skills were highly rated by their supervisors were more likely to have a high performance rating. In other words, while not all toxic people possess political skill, (only) those toxic people who use political skill effectively in the eyes of their bosses are seen as better performers. And as we all know, those who are seen as top performers are more likely to be promoted.

So, this is true: toxic people with political skill are definitely winners when it comes to career.

Will Honest and Humble People always Lose out to Dark Personalities?

Klaus has good news for us. Not only toxic people rise through the ranks, but you can also find non-toxic ones:

It’s just that some toxic people are able to use political skill for their own purposes and are successful in it. In my research I found that once political skill was controlled for, there was no difference in the average task performance ratings between toxic and honest-humble employees. And when it came to a task such as team facilitation, honest-humble employees received higher ratings than their toxic peers (again, when I controlled for political skill). This data helps explain why there are plenty of nontoxic people who rise through the ranks.

So the complaint “It is always the wrong people that get promoted” is nonsense.

There is No Easy Way to Prevent Toxic People from Moving up

Klaus says that there are indeed ways to block toxic people from moving up.

Organizational psychologists who are knowledgeable in personality and behavioral assessments may help identify toxic personalities early, but if the employee possesses political skill, this task is difficult. Bosses could also check with an employee’s colleagues and subordinates before making a promotion, as toxic people may behave differently toward colleagues and subordinates than toward bosses who have decision power.

Toxic people survive by the use of masks. And smart toxic people are hard to unmask.

Toxic People still have Value for the Company

It is a myth that toxic people are all bad. Sometimes these difficult personality types can be useful for an organization.

This is what Klaus says about them:

Imagine you need that James-Bond–like figure for a difficult task to be executed fearlessly, logically, and emotionlessly. For example, a failing firm may need to downsize if it has any hope of surviving. While the need to fire employees can create a heavy emotional burden for most managers, for a manager low in empathy it is much less traumatic. Or maybe you absolutely need a technical specialist, even though they are a bit of a narcissist. Good managers figure out how to deploy these kinds of people while limiting the damage they do to other employees.

Yes, there are definitely places for toxic people in companies.

Employees with Political Skills can be Good for a Company

Of course, political skills are a double-edged sword. Politics can be used for making business decisions smoother, but I have heard of political games that destroy a workplace atmosphere.

One thing is sure, when political skills are used for healthy personal and organizational goals, it can increase both the employees´ and the company’s performance.

And the good thing is that while demonstrating political skill is easier for some, it can and should be learned by anyone.

Call to Action

If you are one of these honest and humble people who feel left out, Klaus Templer´s research suggests that you can make a run for the same promotion by acquiring political skill. Read more about acquiring political skill here

Second, build your network with diverse groups of key people inside and outside the organization. Show genuine interest in other people (in a way that is apparent to them; it doesn’t help if others do not notice). Actively listen to others, and ask them about their professional and personal interests. If you are able to establish a good rapport with others, they will also listen more to your suggestions.

Third, you can acquire Network Marketing skills and apply them systematically to obtain more social credits in your company. Read more about this here and here


    Did you like what you just read? Then subscribe to my free Tip of the Week!