Expanding Social Capital and Creating Political Capital

By Colin Gautrey

Political Capital DevelopmentHaving political capital allows you to get things done. Yet it is only possible to have political capital if you have first invested in building a solid foundation of social capital. Interestingly, although many people have this base of social capital, not many develop it into the sort of influence that only political capital can achieve.

In this short article, I will explore how these ideas work together and then move swiftly onto sharing some thoughts on how you can bolster your social capital and develop it into the much more valuable political capital.

Social Capital

At its simplest level, social capital is the quantity and quality of your relationships. The potential usefulness of your social capital depends very much on who these relationships are with.

You will be right to think that the most important aspect of this is the quality; however, before you can have quality, you have to have quantity. For instance, if you have ten friends rather than one, you are much more likely to be able to find a best friend within that group — you have more to choose from. Once you achieve some quantity, you can then start working on the quality.

For most people, quality refers to the reciprocal nature of trust and sharing between the people in the relationship. As you network, so you build friendships, loyalties and mutual support. For some, such as public figures or senior executives, it is necessary to consider the one-way quality relationships as well because it becomes impossible to have reciprocal relationships with the entire population (I’ll cover this aspect in another article).

Political Capital

Again, keeping it simple, political capital is the amount of goodwill and support available within your relationships. The value of your political capital will be determined by the power and influence of those who bestow you with their goodwill and support, and their potential to assist you in moving forward your goals. There is little point in having lots of goodwill from people who are not in a position to help. You need to be loved by the right people.

At risk of appearing contrived, the process of developing political capital boils down to…

  1. Become very clear about your goals or in which arena you seek power and influence.
  2. Build a broad base of social capital (relationships) with people around your goals/arena.
  3. Progress social capital to political capital with those who matter most.

The first two steps are really no more complicated than purposeful networking, and there is plenty already here in the Influence Library to help your networking (see below). Elevating these relationships into political capital takes a little more focus.

Developing Political Capital

  • Become acutely aware of the personal and professional agendas of your key targets (or communities). List the people and make a concerted effort to discover as much as you can about them.
  • Make sure you have a clear sense of their values too. You will be able to gain a greater degree of support if you manage to appeal to their values (and emotions) as well as their agenda. Yes, write them down and check them out with your friends too.
  • Compare these insights with your own purpose, agenda and values. Where are the common areas? Be honest, where is the conflict? You don’t need to act on this immediately, but be aware from the beginning.
  • Now, go out of your way to help them. Don’t wait to be asked, just do things which make a contribution to their work and life. Be mindful of the negative potential of favours (see The Problems When You Curry Favour) and find authentic ways to add value.
  • Deepen the relationship. Spend more time, particularly informal time, getting to know them and allowing them the opportunity to get to know you. Yes, build more trust and intimacy.
  • Find ways to encourage them to become more involved in what you are doing. As the relationship builds, it may be possible to motivate (or even inspire!) them to work with you more directly, particularly if what you are doing appeals to their values.
  • Ensure you establish a process which will continue to notice new relationships and connections which are worth investing in.

Stay alert for the potential changes around your goals. Sources of valuable political capital can change and from a personal perspective it is important to build a broad base of political capital as well as having it focused on your goals. Goals and the politics around you can all change very quickly, so watch carefully!

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