Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Power Plays

Power Plays
(John O. Whitney & Tina Packer)

Taking up the issue almost all of us face in our professional lives – promotion or transfer, or new hired the authors reveal the one doesn’t necessarily get fired but one always feels the push and its neither subtle nor gentle. One needs to keep an eye on the peers and other executives just as King Henry IV did. One shouldn’t trust them blindly. Shakespeare makes it very clear that the life of a usurper is not at all easy. The new boss (could be you) is a foreign substance injected into a living organism. S/He is grain of sand in the oyster – will either be rejected or go on to become a pearl. Thus the words of King Henry IV should always be kept in mind

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”
As a boss you have an influence on the lives of your subordinates both official and personal. Thus the self conduct becomes very vital and should be impeccable. The two qualities that could see one through this not so friendly environment are being paranoid and an ability to make a lot of clever moves. This further demands a creation of one’s own team of loyalists which is not easy but is too important to be ignored. As King Henry IV advised his son that to unite the factions at home, find a foreign enemy; such an outside threat will keep people inside focused.

As observed by Machiavelli, while the leader’s best job insurance is to enlist the support of the people, which alone is not sufficient: watch the nobles. The masses don’t aspire to your position, but the nobles do. That apart, working with the people is important to assess people’s skills, commitment and future loyalty. Just as Prince Hal hung out on the streets to know the people of his estate and was able to get much information which otherwise never reached him.

Though it is an acknowledged fact that monetary rewards are important, they aren’t enough to keep people enthusiastic and committed. They want a piece of the intellectual action too. So the way is: give them tough challenges and give them the resources and room to do the job, then when they succeed, reward them with recognition and cash.

Given all this, one still needs to be wary of the people who helped one up. And to avoid such backstabbing, stay in touch, stay involved and reward your people as merit deserves. But make sure that your total attention is not just to that inner circle but extends to the people who do the real work – salesmen, technicians, machine men etc. It may seem to come in the way of cost-cutting exercises that are so prevalent all across. This can be managed by following what Robert Lear of Columbia Business School says, “Hire four to do the work of six and pay them like they were five.”

Now when you take up a job at a higher level, you might find that you need to fire/transfer some people. But these some people could be powerful people in their own right and it mayn’t seem easy, though it might be important for the company. Describing the mistake that Henry IV made by dismissing outright the people who helped him get the thrown and even going to the extent of referring them as servants – thus displaying complete lack of diplomacy and hence committing a tactical blunder. A new manager has a small window of opportunity when s/he first arrives. If s/he can identify those who are likely to make trouble and are not well respected, s/he should let them go immediately. But such firing should be tactical after considering all repercussions and the strength of the ground s/he stands on.

Second, one should keep in mind that one should be appearing larger than one’s boss – as the author says. “A duke can never upstage a King”. Just as it is important to acknowledge the good work of your subordinates by rewarding them with appreciation and money, it is important to pamper the boss by letting him take the credits for the world to know.

While we referred to encouraging people, make sure you are good orator and if not, learn to be one or at worst learn to imitate as one. Take a look at Henry V’s speech to his soldiers as they readied themselves to face the French who outnumbered them. The speech surely made his men’s passion many times more than that of French:

“This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by
From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

Same goes with the famous speech by Churchill, which instilled passions when his men readied themselves to face the men of Hitler. Another instance is the speech of Antony in Julius Caesar whereby he wins over the riot of the people.

But, a leader needs a companion – friend, secretary, spouse, anyone – with whom the heart can be let out; something of a support system. A support to which one can go to at the end of the day.

Another very important point a leader needs to take care of is the succession which is not only important for the company but also for the leader him/herself. And as per authors, planning a succession is the most difficult task as it brings in sight the reality of one’s retirement/moving out thus lose of all the power one was gloating in. But even if one is able to conquer such difficult feelings, the choice of successor is not easy and often proves to be the point of fall for the organization. Authors advice that qualities to look for in the leader are the same since centuries: strength, resourcefulness, guile, knowledge, wisdom, empathy, energy, courage, curiosity, constancy, persuasion and vision.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Power Plays

Power Plays
(John O. Whitney & Tina Packer)

Continuing where we left last, the authors quote Shakespeare saying about the people who focus on power for power’s sake that “his piteous and unpitied end”. The best leaders seek power in order to accomplish something.

Authors find a conundrum in Power from People as we know that authority to lead is derived from those who are led. A good leader hears people he is leading and lets them know that they are being heard. However, when he has to make a judgment call about the course of action, it may not be the popular one. A new manager on his first day learns that he/she cannot please everyone. For elected leaders a preoccupation with polls is a prescription for failure. Great leaders are great creators. Someone else would have discovered America if Columbus would have put his proposition to a vote! So a initiative has to be the essential ingredient of a leader – one that is in the best interest of the people being led even if they may not recognize it. A leader must understand the capabilities of his followers, not as they exist today but as they would exist if they were stretched. A leader’s job is not to seek what is comfortable but what is possible and will ultimately serve the purpose.

A wise use of power is equally important. Action without thought is foolish but thought without action is fruitless. There come a time to decide, then act. You might not have all the information you need but if you wait too long, the opportunity will pass you by.

Talking about strategies, the authors quote various examples from King Richard II and King Henry IV and stress on the point that a strategy is necessary for actions and wonderful quote from King Henry IV

“Advantage feeds him fat while men delay”


“Are these things then necessities?
Then let us meet them like necessities…”

Following up strategy, once it is adopted, then all decisions have to conform to the strategy unless some new information comes our way that merits a change in the strategy as happened in the case of Aufidius, who did not change when informed about Coriolanus’ changed plans. The decisions have to be taken by the people mandated to take them and such decisions aren’t subjected to democracy. One can’t lead according to the polls. You can lead only by acting upon the course you think is right. Sometimes you do make mistakes. But then, the biggest mistake a leader can make is to sit there and do nothing. Such decisions many a times have to be tough ones, as a compromise on strategy should be accepted unless the new information so warrants. Anyone unwilling to serve the grand design of the enterprise must leave one way or another. And the timing of such decisions is of prime importance and here is a piece from Julius Caesar to reinforce it:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves.
Or lose our ventures”

If timing is not focused upon, we may have to utter what Richard II said, “I wasted time, and doth time waste me”.
But how does one know when time is right. One way is to follow the rigorous analysis followed by insight and intuition, but this comes from great leaders with good experience, who have a strong gut feeling in their area of expertise.

Another most important aspect of a business is clash of ideologies. When ideologies are intractable, one needs to do a good introspection before assaulting on the rival ideology. Just as a general looks to his army in the battlefield and analyses: Are his soldiers trained? Do they have the stamina – both physical and emotional? Is the army big enough?
To have confirmed answers to the analysis one needs to do, one should have the understanding and faith of the source and strength of power of self and opposition. However, unlike military situations, when in business one should try to see if the opposition ideology carries merit for acceptance. If it dies, use it.

Julius Caesar considered himself as a constant northern star and paid a price for it by hands of Brutus and uttering, “Et tu, brute”. One should be wary of the thoughts of Brutus of being the constant northern star as being one is the sole property of the star and none else.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Power Plays


(John O. Whitney & Tina Packer)

Very few books have gripped me from the start. Maybe I have been more inclined to like the books that built my interest gradually and kept pushing me on the edge like my favourite author Ayn Rand. However, this is one of the very few books read recently that pushed me to the edge from the word go and no, its not a murder mystery story. It’s about Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management – Power Plays by John O. Whitney (professor of Management at Columbia Business School) and Tina Packer (founder, president and artistic director of Shakespeare & Co.).

As per the authors and rightly so, proper exercise of power is one of the most persistent challenges that face us in our work lives. Some of us like Shakespeare’s Richard II do not understand it at all and like him we lose it. Others of us might understand it but then fail to use it; and like Prince Hamlet, we lose it. Thus understanding power – its strengths and limitations – and knowing when and how to use it are critical to success in the business world, as well as in our personal lives.

The desire for Power can be satisfied by means other than a corner huge glass cabin, for example in organizing thousands of people for public service or leading the best known R&D department. Some of the symbols of power – corporate jet, chauffeur car – are mere symbols of power and one should be forewarned of them because when the desire for power becomes the desire for its symbols then we play the acts of Richard II and Macbeth, eventually ruining self.

Understanding power involves answering questions like: what is the reach of power? Will a given action radiate beyond its intended scope? Will there be other unintended consequences? Should limits be put on power? What should we use it for? How far can we take it? How often can we use it? How will we know if it is effective? What will be our reaction if it ignored? Above all, we need to understand its target. For whom or at what is it directed?

And as they say, power is relative and not absolute. Power is relative to time, place and situation. We may be powerful at some time but definitely not all the time, at some place but definitely not all the places, and under some situations but definitely not all situations. So the important thing is the source of power, as the source is not relative. We should never ever lose sight of the real source of our power with a clear understanding that today’s success shouldn’t lull us into thinking that it’ll continue tomorrow too.

The authors, as an example of relative-ness of power, narrate the sequences of Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus.

Warning us that power for power’s sake is power lost, the authors draw parallels between Richard III and Macbeth. Whereas Richard was hell bent on being the King (power) and never introspected that he was assuming a terrorist tendencies for achieving his lust, Macbeth had the doubts if he was doing right, whatever he was doing, to get the power. In the characters of Richard III and Macbeth, Shakespeare shows us the most dangerous temptation of power; namely, that we think it is a good in itself. Might is right.