Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 42;   October 20, 2004: When Leaders Fight

When Leaders Fight

by

Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?

If your boss or someone even higher in your reporting chain is engaged in a feud with a peer, pretending that you aren't involved can be dangerous. For instance, your boss might ask you for ammunition in the form of embarrassing information about the opposition, or you might be asked to deliver "ordinance" yourself. Either way you're at risk. See "Don't Staff the Ammo Dump," Point Lookout for January 3, 2001, for more.

Two orcasIt can get pretty complicated. If your job responsibilities require that you collaborate in an effort sponsored by the "opposition" organization, you might find yourself in a lose-lose situation. If you do collaborate, you risk being seen as disloyal within your own organization; if you don't collaborate, your job performance could be at risk.

When leaders fight, there's danger for everyone. Yet, we rarely hear of training in "Surviving Your Boss's Feuds," in part, because a program like that might be seen as an admission of serious organizational dysfunction. That's ironic, since offering such training would deter feuding behavior, or at least encourage any feuding partners to work things out. When leaders fight, HR isn't likely to be much help.

Here are some insights for surviving when leaders fight.

When leaders fight,
HR isn't likely
to be of much help
Everyone feels the pain
Certainly the antagonists feel pain — they wound each other at work, and they probably carry their pain home at night. And their subordinates fear for their careers if "their side" should lose. Even the non-aligned fear that they will be drawn into the mess.
The fight is a performance issue for the feuders' supervisor
The responsibility for intervention lies with the person who has organizational responsibility for both feuding parties. A feud of long standing is a sign that the responsible person hasn't yet acted effectively — or hasn't yet acted at all.
In proximity lies danger
The closer you are to the feud, the more you're at risk. At least one of the feuders, and probably both, will lose. You could be on the losing side, which might mean that you could be reassigned or lose your job. Prepare to move on.
You can lose (win) even if your boss wins (loses)
When your boss "wins," part or all of the losing organization might be absorbed into yours. The result could be a new tier in your organization, with you underneath it. When your boss "loses," you might be acquired and you might end up higher in the new org chart. Your interests are not necessarily aligned with the interests of your boss.

Once peace arrives, reorganization is a likely outcome, and you might find that you have new peers, new subordinates or new superiors. Taking a strongly partisan position during a feud could make trouble for you later. If you've been very partisan, or even if you haven't, practice bridge-building as soon as possible. Go to top Top  Next issue: Bois Sec!  Next Issue

For more about feuds, see "Organizational Feuds"

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenKaFAtgSgAUGPwnwfner@ChacDOHeZaXOCzTaNJYIoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Mustang stallions fightingWorst Practices
We hear a lot about best practices, but hardly anybody talks about worst practices. So as a public service, here are some of the best worst practices.
George Washington Crossing the DelawareThe Advantages of Political Attack: II
In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions. Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), seventh Vice President of the United StatesImpasses in Group Decision-Making: I
Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
Timber blowdown in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National ForestCoercion by Presupposition
Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal responsibility for ending it.
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-patternThe Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: I
Organizational processes can get so complicated that nobody actually knows how they work. If getting something done takes too long, the organization can't lead its markets, or even catch up to the leaders. Why does this happen?

See also Workplace Politics, Managing Your Boss and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenMLQnhiylazSUbmUZner@ChaczFKQVqNgsBVzXlgKoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.