Politically astute is a common phrase. You hear it often in business and government. Essentially it means to be adept at understanding situations and people and turn them to your own advantage.
At face value that sounds like something everyone would aspire to. Why wouldn’t you want to turn a situation to your advantage?
Ultimately turning a situation to your own advantage often means turning it against others. This is the guiding principle of a zero sum game, there are only so many spoils and as such all players are playing for themselves.
To put this into context, you can consider businesses or objectives of a government. In business there are only so many people who can buy in a market. If that number of buyers is limited, and it always is, the amount any one business can make is limited as well, which builds competition between companies offering similar products or services that meet the needs of the buyers. That ongoing competition is the “invisible hand” coined by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations which regulates markets on it’s own due to people voting with their dollars.
So inherently in that situation you see organizations attempting to be astute to the needs of the market and nimble enough to meet them. Sometimes they will attempt to dictate standards in the market or create problems in order to solve them, among hundreds of other things.
On a more micro level, within organizations of all kinds including government, there are individuals who are looking to improve their own position. It’s very normal for most humans to strive for higher rungs on Maslow’s hierarchy and today that manifests in all sorts of competition within organizations, most of it perfectly moral and some less scrupulous.
Being politically astute is about understanding the environment and people within and acting in such a way that benefits yourself. The term “political” isn’t necessarily a bad one in and of itself, however in today’s world it has a negative connotation with many people. It’s viewed as not being trustworthy and to be completely honest I think some politicians aren’t worth trusting. In fact, there are probably many.
A question exists: should we be astute and look to improve our lot? Or should we be honest? Here’s a tweet from the other day, thinking about the topic.
Being astute isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However the line gets blurry when agency problems arise and make your actions less about achieving a common good or objective of your employer or organization and more about personal betterment. In the long term what you achieve is far more important than your rank and status.
To be honest is a very difficult thing to do. It comes naturally to you, yet society trains you to act otherwise. And that training continues in forums where peers and leadership encourage unscrupulous or dishonest behavior by engaging in it themselves or rewarding it.
Focus on what you are trying to accomplish, be honest and kind while standing up for what you believe. Everything else will take care of itself.