Political Intelligence in Business Leaders

Political intelligence can set the best business leaders apart from the rest by giving them a deeper understanding of the complex political and social environments in which they operate. Business leaders who possess political intelligence are more adept at navigating complex power structures and building strategic partnerships that help drive their organisations forward.

Political intelligence involves understanding the motivations and perspectives of various stakeholders, including customers, employees, regulators, and government officials. It also requires an understanding of the broader social, economic, and political trends that are shaping the business landscape. Leaders with strong political intelligence are able to anticipate and respond to changes in these trends, which helps them stay ahead of the curve and maintain a competitive edge.

In addition, political intelligence enables leaders to build strong relationships with key stakeholders and to influence the policy decisions that affect their organisations. By leveraging their political intelligence, leaders can develop strategies that help them achieve their goals and build long-term success.

Ultimately, political intelligence is a crucial skill for business leaders who want to succeed in the complex and rapidly changing business environment. By possessing a deep understanding of the political and social dynamics at play, they can make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and lead their organisations to greater success.

Political Intelligence

Political Intelligence – Often The Missing Capability

No amount of technical or functional capability will make up for a lack of leadership political intelligence (PQ) in a transformation environment, and many transformations run into trouble for this reason.

Despite strategic decisions to launch new initiatives, with the latest digital solutions involved, the reality in most large organisations is that political coalitions and personal agendas rear their heads at some stage. Often they inadvertently aim to derail an initiative that poses a threat personal interests, but like it or not, the politics of business Transformation is an unavoidable fact of senior management and leadership life, and the need for political intelligence (PQ) at those levels is a prerequisite to success.

The politics is something that all transformation leaders need to accept, understand and master; but while organisations invest in training to help their people become more effective leaders, rarely does the training extend to leadership PQ development.

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
– Plato

Rational and Irrational Effort in Transformation

Many of us have seen initiatives labeled ‘Red' with relationships between internal stakeholders, third parties, and teams at an all-time low. These problems usually arise not because of technology, but as a result of people issues, often involving political tactics.

Situations often go ignored for as long as possible, with some leaders not wanting to “upset the apple-cart”, until the situation becomes so dire, that someone shows the courage to address the political issues that live at the heart of the crisis. But the longer these situations go on for, the more they are allowed to spread like a cancer and put the initiative and the company's ROI and future at-risk.

In A Handbook of Business Transformation Management Methodology the authors provide the following two handfuls of examples of the rational and irrational effort in business transformation.Irrational Effort Examples

  • Fears because of mass layoffs
  • Personal ambitions and interests
  • Hidden agendas
  • Political behaviour and actions

Rational Effort Examples

  • Technical implementation
  • Financial aspects
  • Human resources

It is the irrational effort which requires the PQ that some technically brilliant individuals often struggle with, and as a result, countless transformation programmes go wrong, and then from bad to worse.

Five other common causes of irrational effort in business transformation include:

  1. Lack of visible and vocal support from the CEO
  2. #1 above giving rise to confusion and competition among lower-level managers
  3. Stakeholders guarding their turf and autonomy
  4. Fear of transparency
  5. Threats to self-image, group-image or local organisational culture

Political Intelligence (PQ)

PQ is a leader’s ability to interpret the intent and behaviour of others, navigate the diverse agendas of a multitude of stakeholders, and make progress towards the desired outcomes. This requires a mature blend of behaviours and skills to effectively manage and leverage the political landscape.

Politically intelligent leadership requires the capacity to interact strategically with all stakeholders and to shape a future for the greater good. Not all leaders have good motives, but leaders who have a mature level of PQ want to make a positive difference to the world, and they achieve this through their determination, skill, and readiness to learn more. They mobilise people they trust from their networks, and deliver a better future.

While attending a two-day business transformation workshop in Germany with Professor. Dr. Andrew Kakabadse, I learned how the extent to which a leader needs to mature and draw upon their PQ increases up the organisational hierarchy. Also that in contrast, leaders appear to draw most on their emotional intelligence (EQ) at the management levels, and less so at strategic and governance levels.

“We make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give.”
– Winston Churchill

The Five Facets of PQ

In their book “Leadership PQ”, the authors, Gerry Reffo and Valerie Wark, have presented their PQ model, which is a set of skills, behaviours and processes designed for leaders who want to work together to deliver better outcomes – to deliver profit, growth and better lives for future generations.

The model consists of five facets, each of which is supported by five performance indicators, which include a mix of behaviours, skills and processes. The five facets are:

  1. Futurity
  2. Power
  3. Empathy with purpose
  4. Trust
  5. Versatility


Futurity is about being in a future state, and reflecting on the big issues, problems and challenges. PQ leaders imagine a better future where these are overcome and they know how to create the conditions to make that better future become a reality.


In a PQ context, power is the ability to build relationships and influence others with the intention of shaping the future towards both profit and a better place.

Empathy with purpose

Empathy is the capacity to imagine oneself as another person, emotionally to feel what the other person feels, cognitively to know how the other person sees the world.


Trust is the foundation of all great relationships, and leaders build trust through their behaviours which need to include integrity, transparency, inclusivity, consistency and reliability, and concern for the best interests of others. People either trust you, or they do not.


Versatility is about having a broad range of thought and behaviour and the self-command to use it intentionally. It is about responding swiftly and fully to demanding situations, knowing when to be flexible and subtle, and when to be strong and focused.

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?
– Abraham Lincoln

The authors of “Leadership PQ” explain that while each individual facet is a valuable capacity in its own right, PQ mastery involves using all five facets in harmony. In the short video below, Gerry and Valerie talk more about the five facets of PQ.

Discover more about the work of Gerry Reffo and Valerie Wark at: www.pqleadership.com
The book “Leadership PQ – How Political Intelligence Sets Successful Leaders Apart” (ISBN: 9780749469603) contains 272 pages of deep insight to the PQ model, the five performance indicators of each of the five facets, along with case studies, a guide on how to develop each of the five facets of PQ, and more.