December 2018 | Nano Tools | Leadership
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributor: John Eldred, affiliated faculty, University of Pennsylvania’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies; instructor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Organizational Dynamics program; co-founder of the Wharton School Family Business Program; co-president, Transition One Associates.
Confront politically charged situations like a pro by using the right strategy for the situation.
Leaders who don’t like organizational politics try to avoid them at all costs — but that strategy doesn’t work for long-term career success.
It’s true that politics take up valuable time, and you can’t afford to get mired in pointless organizational debates. So savvy leaders make it a point to strategically decide when and how to engage. They don’t try to win at all costs, but rather work to maintain and build relationships, and reach their goal at the same time.
How do they do it? First, they clarify their ultimate goal, and then reframe what “winning the situation” means in terms of that goal. There may be a tangled political mess, but if it’s irrelevant to their specific goal, they don’t engage.
Even when a situation is relevant, it still might not make sense to engage. Politically wise leaders know they can’t take on everyone. They are selective about when they’re willing to fight. When they do, they don’t use the same approach for every situation. They develop their ability to use different strategies, and then choose one based on specific circumstances.
The four situations and strategies described in the Action Steps below are based on decades of research on organizational politics, which reveals that relative power and goals are critical factors in any political situation and help to clarify your approach. If you strategically decide when and how to engage, and use the right strategy for the situation, you’ll find that politics really don’t need to be any more complicated than that.
Domination: Albert Dunlap (nicknamed The Chainsaw) successfully led a number of companies, including Scott Paper, by drastically reducing their workforce and belligerently managing those who were left. But Wall Street embraced him as a master of turnarounds. Dunlap eventually became CEO of Sunbeam, where he was given control of the board and again slashed the workforce and hit record stock prices. His style of ruling with fear and intimidation, though, wasn’t what got results. After years of little or no oversight, he was engaging in questionable accounting practices that were uncovered during an SEC investigation. He was forced out and never again allowed to serve as an officer or director of a public company.
Influence: The importance of influence (as opposed to power-wielding) is growing in response to younger workers who seek a more dynamic and egalitarian work environment. Leaders like Insureon CEO Ted Devine make themselves available and listen to everyone regardless of rank. Devine made the switch to an open floor plan and can see, hear, and respond to his workforce. His supportive and nurturing style allows him to get results while keeping morale high and turnover low.
Negotiation: After a contract between the two companies ended, book retailer Barnes & Noble tried unsuccessfully to negotiate better terms with publisher Simon & Schuster. Deadlocked, Barnes & Noble began limiting the number of Simon & Schuster titles it stocked, and the publisher’s authors could not hold book signings in their stores. The lines of communication remained open, however, and with the big picture in mind, a truce was declared about nine months after the conflict began.
Cooperation: Co-branding partnerships are often great examples of cooperation. When Pottery Barn and Sherwin-Williams joined forces in 2013, both companies wanted exposure to new audiences of consumers. They co-designed an exclusive line of paint to coordinate with colors in Pottery Barn furniture. This mutually beneficial relationship continues today, with both companies declaring it a success.
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, director of Custom Programs at Wharton Executive Education. Nano Tools for Leaders® is a collaboration between joint sponsors Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. This collaboration is led by Professors Michael Useem and John Paul MacDuffie.
Subscribe to the Wharton@Work RSS Feed