Are you a sheep at work?

Hi everyone,

I’m taking a break from the series on change to share something that’s certainly helped me a lot in my career and continues to do so. I’ve been having a lot of conversations about this recently with some of my clients so I thought I should share it with my loyal blog subscribers as well!

So which political animal are you at work?

Do you work very hard, do what’s expected of you and more, have a huge amount of integrity and generally are a “safe pair of hands” BUT often seem to miss out on the big opportunities and paycheck? Do you wonder how it is that the big bosses know the “other guy” but not you? Chances are you are a sheep. Don’t be disheartened, you’re not alone. Read on to find out how you can improve your game at work…

First things first – credit where it is due: Professor Simon Baddeley from the university of Birmingham together with Kim James developed a descriptive model of political behaviour using political awareness/lack of political awareness and acting with integrity/psychological game-playing to create four distinct behavioural categories as shown in the diagram below.

So a brief summary of the 4 categories follows plus some tips on how you can be the wise Owl.


We all know one – the fox likes power and hanging out with powerful people and wants to be seen as powerful too. Usually charming and measured in speech, with the ability to simulate feelings and plans. The fox usually knows the lowdown and is clued in on the gossip and checks out any rumours and is very aware of other peoples opinions. The fox is not someone with high integrity and often leaves jobs before being found out and is a master manipulator so appears never to make mistakes. The fox knows how the formal and informal system works and works the system very well. The fox garners support, bargains and ingratiates and exploits weaknesses in allies and opponents (sheep – that’s you!). Says things like “Leave it to me, I’ll have a word, X is terribly out of touch” or “I have already discussed this thoroughly and we are all in agreement” (actually BS).


The owl is aware of their purpose and goals and interested in being associated with power and (this is important) can handle being disliked! The owl has excellent inter-personal skills and is emotionally intelligent and an excellent listener so is aware of other peoples opinions and checks gossip & rumour. The owl uses alliances and knows how the system works (formal & informal), learns from mistakes and does not get defensive about them. The Owl is loyal, acts with integrity and has the capacity for friendship, shares information and is open and co-operative. Crucially the owl recognizes who knows, who can & who cares. Says things like “How are we going to resolve this?”, Let me make sure I understand what you want” & “can I have another go”. I’ve shared 5 tips to help you become an owl at the end, so keep reading!


Unprincipled, not very skilled socially, hates being ignored and likes to associate with authority. Does not like direction or appreciate political purpose, game-player but not necessarily very good at it. Not emotionally intelligent, makes judgements based on own feelings rather than ethics or procedure, not a good listener. Sees things in black & white and uses a lot of cliches. Makes remarks like ” Well we all know how he got his job, don’t we”.


The sheep has principles and ethics (and boy don’t you know about it!). The sheep looks up to authority and expects them to sort it out, does not appreciate political purpose, power may be a “bad” word and usually co-incides with authority. The sheep does not network and does not know how to get support and believes in “expert” and “position” power. The sheep listens but does not always hear, sticks to the rulebook and over emphasizes the rational. The sheep is open and shares information freely, sees things as “either-or” and says things like “can we get on with what we are here for” and” if only they would tell us what they want so we can do it”

So how do you become an Owl?

1. Get over your distrust / dislike of power! Your coach can also help with this but the main thing is to realise that power or a position is not ethical or unethical, the people who have it are. Wouldn’t you rather be the person with the power since you are ethical?

2. Listen!! really pay attention to what other people are saying and doing and watch out for what is not being said! Tune in to the grapevine.

3. Network and make friends – it’s much easier than you think. Go for a coffee or lunch with peers, seniors (direct boss as well as their peers) and attend social work events like pub nights.

4. It’s not personal-Get over the disease to please and the need to be liked. If someone says something about you or your work – it is NOT personal. Read “The four agreements” – its a phenomenal book & a great read, it will really help.

5. Know the system – There is always an informal system / unwritten rulebook in any workplace. E.g. even though you may have a formal approval process the main person to get approval from may be someone else, or “so-and-so” needs to buy in to a new idea before it’s presented. Identify the Owls in your office, watch & learn what they do & make friends with them!

Let me know what you think about this – comment & share it if you liked it.

Best wishes,


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5 Responses to Are you a sheep at work?
    August 10, 2010 | 7:36 pm

    this is so true and was so helpful for me to figure out my role in my team now = as well as to deal with a difficult boss. thanks!

  2. rashmi Rana
    August 11, 2010 | 6:35 am

    very apt observation – sheeps like me can hope for better times with a little training.
    there is hope for us.

  3. Heather Barrett
    August 11, 2010 | 11:08 am

    What an insightful way to help people understand their work persona v’v what they want to achieve and most importantly, who they really are. This would be great to facilitate a discussion around a personal values and whether their work persona is congruent with their core life values.

  4. Kajari Bhattacharya
    March 10, 2012 | 3:00 pm

    Great read! On my way to becoming an owl! Thanks!

  5. Piya Khanna
    September 6, 2021 | 11:23 am

    Thanks. No sorry I dont

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