Chapter One: Power Is a Freighted IdeaUnderstand It Before You Use ItHow sweet a thing it is to wear a crown...
Richard in King Henry VI, Part 3 (1.2, 29)
Power! Shakespeare! Few would put these two words together. For if you want to understand power -- how to get it, how to keep it, what to do when you have it, and how you lose it -- then Shakespeare is your man. Power is a central theme in many of his plays. No writer ever portrayed the ambiguities, trappings, dangers, and blessings of power better than Shakespeare. He shows us how power is passed down through the generations. For instance, Harry Bolingbroke knocks Richard II off the throne and ends up causing the Wars of the Roses, a hundred-year strife between the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Shakespeare shows how power slips away. Henry V builds an empire, but his son Henry VI makes so many mistakes that he ends up wandering around the countryside, alone, yearning to be a humble shepherd. Shakespeare shows the seduction of power. In Hamlet
Gertrude marries the man who has annihilated her husband, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern betray their classmate, and Polonius sacrifices his daughter, all because they want to stay close to the seat of power. Shakespeare shows the abuse of power. Richard Plantagenet (ultimately Richard III) exults in the act of evil, not interested in the complexities and responsibilities of power. It takes him twenty-three years to get his crown, but only two to lose it. Richard III wants power so badly that he literally kills for it. As does Macbeth. Of course, no sane CEO sets out to be Richard III or Macbeth. To hear them tell it, every CEO is in business to make the world a better place. But too many successful business leaders, despite their good intentions, end up believing their press releases, perceive power as an end rather than a means, and get distracted from their real jobs: growing their companies, making money for their shareholders, and, in the process, serving their employees, customers, communities, and society at large. And too many CEOs, like Julius Caesar, hang on to power, don't see that times have changed and that it's time to go, before they are pushed.
The proper exercise of power is one of the most persistent challenges facing us in our work lives. Some of us, like Shakespeare's Richard II, the man Bolingbroke pushed off the throne, 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. 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.
Our age is the age of power. Incredible power. World power. Media power. Technological power. Money power. Power that can alter things so quickly, a shift has occurred before most of the world's population knows anything about it. Power to lift up and throw down like a great tornado. And if you are a young executive who wants power, well, you're going to have to fight for it every bit as fiercely as Shakespeare's medieval knights hacking each other down in battle. But you are going to need more than courage and brute strength. You are going to need self-knowledge, know your strengths and weaknesses, have stamina and intelligence, know when to speak out, when to keep quiet, know how to inspire, how to apologize, when to act alone, when to support someone else, when to seize leadership, how to learn from mistakes, how to keep focused when everyone else around you is screaming, and how to balance personal life and professional life -- and, above all, how to retain passion, compassion, and commitment in the face of unending complications and seemingly insuperable barriers.
The desire for power can be satisfied in ways other than a cavernous corner office overlooking Central Park -- for example, in organizing thousands of people for public service or leading the best-known R&D department. Some of the perks of power are tempting -- the corporate jet, the car and driver, the corner office and executive secretary. But be forewarned: the symbols of power are not power; they are only symbols. Because I spent most of my business life running start-ups and turnarounds, it would have been counterproductive to be seen enjoying these kinds of perks, although they looked good to me. Now, as a corporate board member and guest speaker, I get to use these symbols of power from time to time. They're fun, but they're certainly not what power is all about. They are just the trappings. And like despotic rulers -- Richard III and Macbeth -- they have given power a bad name, causing many people to believe that power, by its nature, is evil.
Several years ago, I delivered a sermon at my church in which I simply referred to the notion of power. Afterward two women scolded me severely for bringing up such a vulgar issue in church. I stuttered some polite reply. Today, I would advise them that power is not necessarily an evil thing. Power is a freighted idea, filled with shifting cargo: power to build, power to tear down; power to hasten, power to delay; power to inspire, power to frighten; power to give, power to withhold; power to love, power to hurt; power to do good, power to do evil. The two church ladies, like Richard Plantagenet and Macbeth, did not understand power.Power: Understand It or Lose It
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 you use it for? How far can you take it? How often can you use it? How will you know if it is effective? What will be your response if it is ignored? Above all, you must understand its target. For whom, or at what, is it directed?
There are always complex answers to these questions. What works for one person or group might not work for another. What works today might not work tomorrow. Shakespeare certainly doesn't provide absolute answers, but he poses questions so provocatively that our understanding is enriched as we contemplate the problems he presents.Power Is Relative, Not Absolute
Power is relative to time, place, person, and situation. I have seen managers who, because they have power on their own home turf, assume they are powerful everywhere. And what about the young investment banker glowing over his first six-figure bonus, who becomes an overnight expert on economics, political science, and the weather? Money is powerful only in certain contexts: if knowledge or compassion is what is needed to understand something, money may not help.
Ask the people at IBM, Motorola, or Eastman Kodak whether power is relative or absolute. Then ask them if in the 1980s they had an understanding of the sources of their power. If at that time they had been able to acknowledge that what goes up can come down, ask them what they would have done differently. Answer: just about everything. These companies are so large that their fortunes and misfortunes are well chronicled. But many of the analyses miss the real story: these leaders and managers did not
know the sources of their power, and they thought that the elevators ran only one way -- up.
Fortunately, what goes down can also go up. So as we start the new millennium, IBM is back on top once again, Motorola is clawing its way back up the success ladder, but Eastman Kodak is still struggling. We will be looking more closely at these companies later, but wherever they are -- and more importantly to you, wherever you are on the ladder of success -- don't ever lose sight of your real sources of power. Where does your power come from? And don't let today's success lull you into thinking that tomorrow will always be like today.
A brilliant exposition of how power shifts with time and circumstance is found in one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays. In Coriolanus,
Caius Martius is an experienced, powerful Roman warrior. After his superb military leadership at the siege of Corioli against the Volscians, Martius is rewarded with the name Coriolanus and encouraged to stand for consul, one of Rome's most powerful jobs. But Coriolanus, whose arrogance matches his ego, thinks he should be made consul without going through the steps necessary for elected office. He feels that the "politicking" he must do to be elected consul is beneath him. So his first error is to think that being a great warrior automatically qualifies him to be a politician. Second, he fails to recognize that Rome's tribunes, the city's middle managers, are out to destroy him politically. And because their tactics are unlike a soldier's, Coriolanus has no idea of or desire to counteract their activities, and they succeed in getting him banished from Rome. The indignant Coriolanus seeks revenge. Dressed in rags, with no weapons, he makes his way to the Volscian camp and seeks out his old adversary, Aufidius. This time he makes a masterful move and in a gesture of humility offers his naked throat to Aufidius:
My throat to thee and to thy ancient malice;
Which not to cut would show thee but a fool...
Coriolanus (4.5, 98-100)
You can see that Coriolanus has undergone two major power shifts: from Roman noble to battle hero to failed politician. And now he undergoes a third: to bum. He is a supplicant, like a fallen corporate hero once "master of the universe" whose company faces bankruptcy, pleading with bankers for more time and more money. However, this time Coriolanus's actions pay off -- probably because he understands his enemy and fellow warrior, Aufidius, better than he did the tribunes. "Go to someone you know and who knows you" is probably not bad advice. Aufidius, appreciative of Coriolanus's prowess in battle, knows that with Coriolanus's help, he, Aufidius, can achieve his lifelong dream, the conquest of Rome. So he assigns half of the Volscian army to Coriolanus's command:
Th' one half of my commission [soldiers], and set down
As best thou art experienc'd, since thou know'st
Thy country's strength and weakness...
Coriolanus (4.5, 140-43)
So the power shifts again. And Coriolanus is on his way back up, and he's back with people he understands: soldiers. Like General MacArthur's men, ordinary troops idolize him. Aufidius's lieutenant reports a potential problem to him -- Coriolanus's relationship with half of Aufidius's army:
I do not know what witchcraft's in him, but
Your soldiers use him as the grace 'fore meat,
Their talk at table and their thanks at end;
And you are darken'd in this action, sir,
Even by your own.
Coriolanus (4.7, 2-6)
Although Aufidius realizes he is losing the loyalty of his own men, he ruefully replies:
I cannot help it now,
Unless, by using means, I lame the foot
Of our design [to conquer Rome].
Coriolanus (4.7, 7-9)
Aufidius is so eager to report a profit next quarter that he ignores the fact that it could be dangerous to have Coriolanus leading his troops. He has turned over half his company to an ambitious vice president, who promises results even though his credentials are questionable. And for a short while it looks as if Aufidius's gamble is going to pay off. But just before Coriolanus is about to attack Rome (and both sides are convinced he will succeed), his strong-willed mother talks him out of sacking and burning his hometown, convincing him to seek an armistice instead. Because Aufidius has given up so much of his power to Coriolanus, Coriolanus can do this. But when Coriolanus completes the peace negotiations and Rome is saved, Aufidius is so humiliated that he and a group of conspirators assassinate him.
In today's world, this scenario of shifting power is all too familiar. Once, not long ago, the jobs of senior executives were seen as sinecures. If you made it to CEO, vice president, or division manager, you could count on having a smooth ride to age sixty-five, collecting your gold watch, and living comfortably on your pension. No more. And probably not ever again. The competitive landscape is changing too fast, and stockholders expect near-perfect performance. Still, many executives I have known have let themselves be lulled into thinking that today's success will be repeated automatically and forever. I don't counsel paranoia, but in the first four chapters of this book we'll demonstrate some of the pitfalls -- and pratfalls -- lurking for leaders who believe that power is absolute. Let us be clear: it is not absolute, it is relative to time and place, person and function.Power for Power's Sake Is Power Lost
If we believe or act as if power is for power's sake alone, we are sure to lose it. One of Shakespeare's first protagonists, the man who would be Richard III, originally appears in two early plays, King Henry VI, Part 2
and Part 3,
dreaming about "how sweet a thing it is to wear a crown." By the time of his own play, King Richard III,
an older if not wiser Richard has become a single-minded terrorist who slaughters his way to the throne. He has his own brother stabbed and then drowned in a barrel of wine, his nephews smothered to death, his wife poisoned, his in-laws executed.
Richard has the great business leader's ambition and determination, no question about it. His rise is proof of the power of power, not to mention its addictive properties. Richard does not seem to have any goal other than to be king. After a brief reign (his two years on the throne are reduced to about two weeks by Shakespeare), when he tries to escape death in battle, he is more than willing to give up the throne he murdered eleven people for, to save his own neck. "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" he exclaims for generations who will repeat his phrase. A desperate trade, but appropriate for one who wants power only for power's sake.
Macbeth, too, wanted to be king without knowing exactly what to do with the power once he was crowned. He, too, was willing to kill for power. But while Richard III is the kind of monster that even the most aggressive executive will have trouble recognizing in the mirror, Macbeth is like us. He wants power, but he also feels guilty about what he's willing to do to get it. A brave and loyal servant of a good king, the warrior Macbeth learns from the three witches he meets in the third scene of the play that he is destined to be king. Immediately, Macbeth can see himself on the throne; worse, he realizes that he is willing to consider assassinating King Duncan to achieve this destiny. When he tells his wife about the three witches' prediction, Lady Macbeth encourages him to go for it even though she's confided to the audience earlier that he's "too full o' the milk of human kindness." But what executive (or his wife) has not dreamed of making the boss disappear? Macbeth, like us, resists his urge, for a moment anyway. He has a conscience. He knows Duncan is a "gracious" man. However, when he tells his wife of his qualms, she lets him have it: "When you durst do it, then you were a man." She also puts their relationship on the line: "From this time forth, such I account thy love." It's all Macbeth needs to get him over the moral hump. He sets out to kill King Duncan.
The appeal of Macbeth to the audience, as many critics have noted, is that we can empathize with him. While his murders might appall us, his desire to get rid of the opposition hooks us. In spite of knowing what he ought to do, he does otherwise. Do we see ourselves here? As he says:
...why do I yield to that suggestion [of murdering Duncan]
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature?
Macbeth (1.3, 134-37)
We understand the temptation he faces because we, too, aspire to the big job. We also have been fed the fallacy that great leaders need to be "killers." We have heard Lady Macbeth question our manhood. And who in the business world does not understand the power of what Macbeth calls his "vaulting ambition"?
But what does Macbeth accomplish once he wears the crown? He becomes a serial killer. To secure his power, Macbeth orders the deaths of his best friend, Banquo, Fleance, his best friend's son, anyone who is against him, even Macduff's children. A noble warrior, he seems never to have thought about the necessities of politics or the good of the people he is leading. He is interested only in power for power's sake. And therein lies the seed of Macbeth's tragedy. In the characters of both 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.
Beginning in the 1960s, many successful chief executives began to grow their companies for the sake of growth only. Every healthy organization requires growth. But sound growth is one thing, unbridled growth quite another. The early conglomerates were often cobbled together under no grand strategy other than "Bigger is Better." James Ling was at the forefront of this movement. At the start of the decade he acquired several firms to create Ling-Temco-Voight (LTV), an aircraft and electronics manufacturing corporation. At the end of the 1960s he went on a tear, acquiring other conglomerates in sporting goods, foods, pharmaceuticals, airlines, and car rental companies. But when he bought Jones & Laughton Steel, the debt forced him to divest many of his other holdings. In the late 1970s he renewed his quest, buying a sheet and tubing firm, a steamship line, a maker of military vehicles, and finally another steel company, Republic. By 1986, LTV was bankrupt. It emerged from court protection only in 1993 -- as a debt-ridden producer of flat-rolled steel.
During this same period Charles Bluhdorn, the swashbuckling chief executive of Gulf + Western, acquired a very successful Hollywood movie and TV studio, Paramount, and then added the country's leading book publisher, Simon & Schuster, as well as an array of consumer and industrial products firms. Within three years after Bluhdorn's death in a plane accident in 1983, his successor, Martin Davis, had sold sixty of these companies, reducing its workforce by two thirds and its sales by half, finally giving it a new focus and vigor. The studio and publishing arms were renamed Paramount Communications. Ten years later it was sold to Sumner Redstone's Viacom and functioned effectively as part of a large entertainment corporation. While Paramount and Simon & Schuster flourished, Gulf + Western no longer existed.
More recently, the investment banking firm Drexel Burnham Lambert went down for the count for the same fundamental reason. During the junk-bond craze, DBL issued ever more risky debt for companies no one else would finance. When these firms foundered, DBL lost its credibility and financial clout. It declared bankruptcy.
The U.S. economy has been excellent the last few years, so the dramatic unraveling has not been quite so dramatic. However, the current wave of spin-offs does show that executives today might have learned something from the 1970s and 1980s and that they are more wary than their predecessors. The acquisition frenzy of the 1970s and 1980s only proves a point that Shakespeare was making four hundred years ago: Power sought for its own sake is bound to be power lost. No matter what level you're playing at, the manager who is interested in power only to acquire "more" is in business for the wrong reason. When you are reveling in your "killer instinct," you may want to think about how Macbeth and Richard III (and Jimmy Ling and too many others), the most powerful men in their realms, each met, as Shakespeare says of Richard, "his piteous and unpitied end" (Richard III,
Over and over again, Shakespeare advises us that the best leaders seek power in order to accomplish something.Power from the People: A Conundrum
The leader must understand the source of his power, and he must also understand that pandering to that source will ultimately defeat him. On the one hand, we all know that the authority to lead is derived from those who are led. A good leader hears the people he is leading and lets them know they are being heard. However, when he or she has to make a judgment call about the course of action, it may not be the popular one. The people may not even have thought of the action that the leader is preparing to take! And the person remains a leader only if the people will be led. Making people do things because you can is not a very good way of leading -- for power alone, ultimately, cannot protect power. Even dictators, though the army and the secret police might support them, can be deposed. Hitler died in his bunker; Mussolini was hanged by his heels. "Baby Doc" Duvalier was banished. Even those dictators who died in bed will eventually be discredited; Mao, Stalin, and Lenin are now seen for what they were -- ruthless murderers, not compassionate servants of the people.
And yet, perceiving that even the most entrenched leaders can be deposed, some leaders, in their desire to hold on to power, will do anything to keep the people happy. On the political scene, we see polls and pandering being used as the very foundation of leadership. In the corporate world, we see leaders who are afraid to take a principled stand, leaning toward powerful but unrepresentative shareholder factions, bending for public interest groups (which may or may not have the public interest in mind but do make a lot of noise) and aggressive minorities. It is true that a political leader needs the information that polls provide; a business leader needs information from marketing research, financial advisers, public relations polling, and employee surveys. But how important is that information? How should it be used?
If the leader gains insights from the resources listed above, should he or she devise a course of action that at least will please the majority? First he must ask, "Which majority?" Perhaps a majority agrees about one destination, but each individual wants to take a different route. However, if a different destination were offered, a different majority might materialize in its favor. Even if these problems were solvable, what about the minority and its many permutations? We may need their support, too, if we are to reach the destination.
None of this is new to leaders, managers -- or followers. The newly appointed manager learns the first day on the job that he or she cannot please everyone all the time. Some elected leaders have learned, to their sorrow, that a preoccupation with polls is a prescription for failure. Would that more leaders in government or business had read, understood, and had the courage to act on Edmund Burke's advice: "Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." Perhaps Burke was advised by Coriolanus, who, flawed as he was, knew some tenets of leadership. Coriolanus urges his fellow senators to see that by yielding to popular demands,
...Thus we debase
The nature of our seats, and make the rabble
Call our cares fears...
Coriolanus (3.1, 135-37)
He goes on to say,
Mangles true judgement, and bereaves the state
Of that integrity which should becom't...
Coriolanus (3.1, 157-59)
Leaders are not sponges to soak up and then squeeze out the same muddy water. Leaders are not conduits merely, but creators. And great leaders are great creators. Someone else would have discovered America if Christopher Columbus had been required to put his proposition to a vote. Would General Electric be as successful as it is if, twenty years ago, Jack Welch had sought to please his hierarchy of comfortable vice presidents -- senior vice presidents and group vice presidents -- and asked them to approve his sometimes draconian measures? Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were elected by the people, but had they been required to put to vote every action they deemed necessary in order to create the New Deal or to win the Cold War, the country could have taken years to recover from the Depression and the Cold War might have gone on forever.
A leader must understand the capabilities of his followers, not as they exist today, but as they would exist if they were stretched. The leader's job is not to seek what is comfortable, but what is possible and what will ultimately serve the purpose. Yes, the leader must also understand the mood of those he is leading, but not in order to pander; rather, to know where to place the ladder, so that he and his followers can climb together. And ultimately a leader must convince her followers, through action, example, and argument, that this is the way to go and together they can do it.Power Is a Tool
When we understand that power is a tool -- and can be used as a tool for good -- we begin to unlock its potential. Tina Packer began her career in the theater with a prejudice against power. Raised in England in a family with deep attachments to the working class, Tina, who went to school in the 1960s, believed that the rich and powerful were always out to exploit the poor and the weak. Then, as she entered the workforce as an actress, she began to think more deeply about power. She was a member of England's legendary Royal Shakespeare Company: a small cog in a large organization. Soon she conceded to herself that she wanted power. "Because I had none," she recalls. But Tina, unlike Macbeth or Richard, did not want power only for the sake of having it. Let her explain:
I wanted power because I couldn't bear not having a voice. As a mere actor in the theater world, you have no voice. You're cast based only on what you look like, and you begin to lose all sense of who you really are. I knew if I wasn't to lose myself, I had to start doing the kind of theater I thought was important. Even though at that time I was working with the best theater directors in the English-speaking world, I still felt as if I was of no consequence because what they were saying was not what I wanted to say. Mind you, at that time I didn't really know what I wanted to say. But I had to step out and start saying what I thought I thought; otherwise I would remain voiceless. I had to start making my own mistakes in order to define who I was. If I can generalize for a moment, I think that's true for a lot of women. Often we feel that we're powerless, at least in the ways that the world currently defines power. One of the joys I look forward to is the ways in which women can influence the way power is manifested. I wanted to articulate what I thought would make a great theater company, and I wanted to run it in a way that would include everyone's creativity.
So Tina, a born critic of the powerful, realized the only way she could find out whether she could do a better job than the people she was working for was not to sit on the sidelines and criticize but to try to get her own vision working. And that meant leading and being willing to step out and create a different kind of theater. And she found that she could do it. She didn't want power for power's sake. But she did want to get something done. She was, if you will, called to power.Power -- Use It Wisely or Lose It
Action without thought is foolish, but thought without action is fruitless. There comes a time to decide, then act. You might not have all the information you need (in fact, you never have enough
information), but if you wait too long, the opportunity will pass you by. In the turnarounds that I have led, I have rarely had all the information I wanted; but when I weighed the consequences of delay, there was no contest. If a company is already in crisis, there is little left to lose but much to gain. In that respect, turnaround decisions are less complex than decisions in stable business enterprises. Ironically, however, the context of stability can lead to inaction, and then once great or near-great companies themselves become candidates for a turnaround. General Motors, in the 1960s and 1970s, was hopelessly ensnarled in stability: its market share plummeted from a high of 50 percent to under 30 percent today. The Japanese, who not only understood quality but acted to improve it, stole the market. But quality alone cannot sustain an economy. Now bureaucratic stagnation has helped turn the Japanese economic miracle into an economic mess. I have consulted in Japan for many years, and, as much as I enjoy the people I work with, I am dismayed by their inability to act quickly and decisively. I spent years encouraging middle management to offer ideas to their bosses, terrific ideas, ideas that would have made a real difference to the company -- only to have them quashed simply because they came from someone below the status of executive! This lack of openness is death to a vital organization. The exceptions are there, of course -- Toyota, Sony, Shisheda, and Kao clearly demonstrate that they can compete globally; but even those companies are having troubles in their domestic market that have diverted their attention away from developing effective global strategies.Strategies -- Power Focused
In Chapter 11 we argue that every person and every enterprise has a strategy of some sort. It might not be obvious; it might be submerged in a muddle of an unconscious mind; it might change from moment to moment; it might be contradictory or fuzzy; but whether or not we can articulate it clearly, our actions are always dictated by some kind of strategy. However, before we comfort ourselves with the notion that we are strategists, we need to realize that strategies with the characteristics described above are rarely effective. A strategy should be well crafted, well articulated, and relatively consistent, and should have criteria by which its success or failure can be measured. We'll talk more specifically about strategy in Chapter 11; but it goes almost without saying that with no plan or criteria to measure your performance, you might stumble into success -- but then, you might also win the Irish Sweepstakes.
In the plays King Richard II
and King Henry IV, Part 1
and Part 2,
we see a man who has thought carefully about both his personal and political strategies. We first meet Harry Bolingbroke (who is to become King Henry IV) in King Richard II.
Richard is a self-absorbed, profligate ruler who makes a suicidal mistake: after the death of one of the kingdom's most powerful nobles, Bolingbroke's father, John of Gaunt, Richard cuts off Bolingbroke as his father's heir and confiscates Gaunt's lands and possessions. He commits one of the major sins of a leader: he doesn't protect the rights of his people, he exploits them, thereby enraging not only Bolingbroke but also all the other nobles in the land. He creates an opposition to himself. "If it can happen to Bolingbroke, it can happen to me." Shortly before John of Gaunt's death, Richard, in an attempt to settle a quarrel between the Earl of Mowbray and Bolingbroke, banished Mowbray for life and Bolingbroke for six years. On hearing of the confiscation of his inheritance, Bolingbroke stole back to England, organized other nobles, and with relatively little opposition not only reclaimed his inheritance but deposed Richard and assumed the throne as King Henry IV. Scholars disagree whether it was Bolingbroke's strategy all along to become king, but most agree that once he assumed the throne, though he did not always continue to be clever about aligning the nobility to his cause, he was an effective strategist both politically and personally.
In a lecture to his wayward son, the drinking, whoring, ne'er-do-well Prince Hal, Henry IV describes how while he was still Harry Bolingbroke, he inspired the people, even when Richard was present:
And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,
And dress'd myself in such humility
That I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts,
Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,
Even in the presence of the crowned King.
King Henry IV, Part 1 (3.2, 50-54)
He then reveals that this persona he projected -- the modest, courteous person -- was in fact a strategy. In contrast to Richard II -- described as the skipping king -- Bolingbroke was seen little, and when he was seen, he was seen to great effect:
...and so my state,
Seldom, but sumptuous, show'd like a feast,
And wan [won] by rareness such solemnity.
ardKing Henry IV, Part 1 (3.2, 57-59)
He states his strategy simply: "Thus did I keep my person fresh and new." Richard II, on the other hand, was about the silliest strategist ever written about. He thought he deserved to be king simply because he was king. He vacillates, changes his mind, has favorites, dramatizes every situation, but doesn't act. Bolingbroke relies on his own decisiveness and strength. He is a king, fit for the task rather than merely born to it. He is also a king with a political strategy. And he needs one, because his usurpation of the throne and his subsequent summary dismissal of his former allies foster rebellion against him. Henry knows that to preserve order in the kingdom, he must put down armed rebellion swiftly and efficiently, no matter how justifiable the cause may seem. This is the simple and straightforward strategy that drives him through his fourteen-year reign. When he smells rebellion, he acts quickly to quell it. He says to his son, Prince Hal (also nicknamed Harry):
The Earl of Westmoreland set forth today,
With him my son, Lord John of Lancaster...
On Wednesday next, Harry, you shall set forward,
On Thursday we ourselves will march...
Our hands are full of business, let's away,
Advantage feeds him fat while men delay.
King Henry IV, Part 1 (3.2, 170-80)
Even on his deathbed, Henry proves himself a strategic thinker, advising his son and successor, Prince Hal, that the best way to prevent further civil war is to find an overseas battle to fight. An outside enemy will unite the people. They will forget the wrongs of the past because of the danger in the present.
...Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels, that action hence borne out
May waste the memory of the former days.
King Henry IV, Part 2 (4.5, 212-15)
The lessons of how to use power effectively are all here: develop the right strategy -- the right "course" -- and communicate it effectively to your people. Then execute it. Even though consistency is important, you should also be prepared to improvise. What if you make a mistake? Be thankful! You've learned something. Strategies sometimes have to change. But you will want to measure every move, assess its implications, and thus, over time, figure out what works and what doesn't. (You will never know if you don't try.)
My first business was a woefully undercapitalized advertising agency. The firm I had been working for would take on any client, large or small, trade, industrial, consumer, financial. It was not only a hodgepodge, it was an inefficient hodgepodge. Our big clients were unhappy because our work was late; we were late because we couldn't hire enough people to do the work; and we couldn't hire people because we were losing money on most of our clients. After eight years, I finally quit to strike out on my own. My father-in-law, concerned about the well-being of his beloved daughter and our family, asked me, "What if you fail?" I replied: "My new agency might fail, but I won't. I know where I'm going, and one way or another, I'll get there."
I did not fail. In fact, we prospered. Because we had a strategy.
I set five criteria for selecting clients:
- The client would have to agree to sign our "Belief Relationship," a document that described the professional relationship the firm would have with all its clients. We would not bribe clients with tickets to shows or ball games; they would pick up the tab for lunch.
- We would select clients willing to take chances, who wanted creative solutions to their problems, not stand-on-your-head creative, but penetrating, thoughtful work that would differentiate the client from its competitors.
- We would represent clients only in the consumer product business. I turned down the first two businesses that came to me because they would take us in a different direction than where I planned to go -- even though I was nearly broke. By sticking to my strategy of consumer product clients, I was able to attract other clients in that same business. Soon, we were viewed as the pros in consumer product advertising.
- The client had to be big enough to deserve the attention of our best and brightest. We did make a few exceptions for personal reasons, including a small Chinese restaurant because we liked the owner. We lost our shirts on that account, of course, but we made a good friend and had some great Chinese food.
- We would not work for the customary 15 percent commission if that amount did not add up to a decent profit.
Soon we began to attract the best writers and art directors in the business, a few even willing to take pay cuts to work in our shop because they wanted to stand for something. What made me so cocky? I had read King Richard II
and knew that he lost power because he did not use it. I also had remembered that Henry IV, who takes away Richard's power, creates a strategy to use his power to protect his enterprise and eventually dies in bed. Listen to the directness of these two lines. On being informed that the rebels are fifty thousand strong, Henry says:
Are these things then necessities?
Then let us meet them like necessities...
King Henry IV, Part 2 (3.1, 92-93)
That should be the motto of every business executive.Corporations Are Not Democracies
We acknowledged earlier that authority to lead is derived from those who are led. Without followers, you cannot be a leader. But sometimes you have to make a judgment call, and your decision may not be the obvious one. What if your people disagree? You've listened, but no successful leader makes decisions by consensus. You can't lead according to the polls. You can lead only by acting upon the course you think is right.
When I took over the job of turning around Pathmark, for the first time in the company's history its sales were less than they had been in comparable periods for the previous year. The sales of some stores were down substantially, and margins were slipping across the board. It looked as if the company would be reporting a substantial operating loss. Worse, its stock price plunged from the mid-twenties to under three dollars a share. I had to move fast. Our competitors had slashed prices, but we recognized that in our precarious financial situation, cutting prices would be suicidal. Due to high fixed costs and a precipitous slide in our sales volume, cost cuts wouldn't get us back into the black.
The way to go, I decided, was marketing. Our store managers may have lacked discipline, but, on the whole, they were aggressive and flexible. Before my arrival, the company had been considering an innovative proposal to keep stores open twenty-four hours a day. I backed the idea, as did the CEO, but two of the company's founders were worried about the fact that we would be the first supermarket chain in a large metropolitan area to stay open all night. Did we know how to pull it off? The logistical problems would be horrendous. The vice chairman of the company thought we were crazy and was so upset he had to leave the country for three months. "I can't stand it," he said. "You're going to ruin the stores." I fought for keeping the stores open around the clock, we did it, and the gods were smiling. The results were electrifying, capturing the imaginations of the press and customers. Pathmark's revolutionary twenty-four-hours-a-day campaign increased our sales by $170 million at the end of its first full year. Instead of reporting a huge loss for the year, we reported a small profit. And from that success, I was able to build the next strategy.
Sometimes, of course, you do make mistakes. But I believe that the biggest mistake any leader can make is to sit there and do nothing. When I was running my advertising agency, on my return from a long business trip, my key people greeted me with a great big paddle and said: "Stir it up again!"
I will confess that during my business career, I loved shaking things up. That's the way the most profitable
breakthroughs are made.Power and Tough Decisions Go Together
In 1998, Gary Wendt's GE Capital raked in 41 percent of General Electric's profits. But before the year was out, GE's chairman, Jack Welch, had accepted Wendt's resignation. One Sunday afternoon in October 1998, Sandy Weill and John Reed, co-CEOs of Citigroup, fired Jamie Dimon, the dynamic, effective, and popular forty-two-year-old president of the financial services giant created when John Reed's Citicorp merged with Sandy Weill's Travelers in 1997. In 1994, Joseph Volpe, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, stunned the music world when he fired the talented soprano Kathleen Battle, a major box-office draw in opera-mad New York.
Jamie Dimon and Gary Wendt are incredibly talented executives who are bound to surface again. Kathleen Battle's career remains huge, even without the Met. But successful companies must stand for something. The beautiful Battle had been playing too well the role of the spoiled diva; she had canceled appointments, indulged in fits of arrogance, and antagonized other singers. The Metropolitan Opera, Volpe argued, was larger than one soprano, no matter how talented or profitable. GE watchers on Wall Street had detected tensions between Welch and Wendt, whose impressive success at GE Capital seemed to make him forget one of Welch's cardinal rules of management: everyone is a team player. Wendt also did not share his boss's passion for cost cutting; worse, he was prone to playing the role of the imperial CEO. (According to one widespread story, when Wendt was bored in a meeting, he would just get up and leave.)
Jamie Dimon was widely believed to be the heir apparent at Citigroup. For the previous fifteen years, he had been Sandy Weill's trusted lieutenant and top analyst. And though he had reportedly expressed reservations about trying to combine Travelers and Citicorp too hastily, he wanted to preside over the union. It was a rocky tenure. Dimon also was cool about Weill's acquisition of Salomon Smith Barney. The investment banking unit racked up hundreds of millions of trading losses in the third quarter of 1998. Dimon, however, was in no position to gloat; he was co-supervisor of the unit. According to The New York Times,
he was requesting to be named president of the unit. Perhaps most divisive of all was the fact that Dimon had become a darling of Wall Street, and Weill, sixty-five, reportedly resented the attention his young protégé was getting. What had once been called a "father-son relationship" was clearly breaking up over differences in long-term strategy, accelerated perhaps by the press. Citigroup was supposed to be a new kind of supermarket of financial services for the new era of global capitalism. Dimon seemed to have his doubts, and, if so, Weill and Reed were right to send him packing. (Even if Dimon was right.) The freight in Jamie Dimon's hull was shifting.
Anyone unwilling to serve the grand design of the enterprise must leave one way or another. That does not mean that there is no room for mavericks. As we shall see in Chapter 10, mavericks make the world go round and the profits go up. But once the direction is set, mavericks cannot undermine the cause. The mission of the company must be paramount -- more important than short-term profits and bigger certainly than any one person, no matter how effective or popular that person might be. A good leader has to make tough decisions.
Remember Aufidius? He did not make the tough decision. When his lieutenant warned him that Coriolanus was gaining power to the detriment of Aufidius, the Volscian leader should have changed his strategy. Instead, he equivocated. Like so many of us, he said, "I cannot help it now." Nonsense. He could help it. He was still in command. It would have been tough to fire Coriolanus, but not impossible. I think he should never have hired Coriolanus in the first place; but if he did, he should have gone to the gates of Rome with Coriolanus, then fired him the moment he started to negotiate the peace, then attacked Rome himself. You might say that Aufidius won out in the end: he had Coriolanus killed. But Coriolanus was not the objective, Rome was. Aufidius lost his opportunity to take Rome, and he lost his reputation with the Volscian leaders.Timing Isn't Everything, But It Might Be Everything Else
When Bolingbroke was beginning to form his coalition of disgruntled nobles, Richard II decided it was time to prance off and fight some Irish wars. His timing was lousy. Not only did Richard give Bolingbroke the opportunity to consolidate support, he lost his prime ally, his uncle, the Duke of York. By the time Richard got back to England, the best he could do was "sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings." He could not possibly win an armed conflict; his only hope was to negotiate -- at which, as we will see later, he was equally inept. "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me," he admits to the audience in the last act.
There is a marvelous statement in Julius Caesar
about the importance of timing when Brutus counsels Cassius:
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.
Julius Caesar (4.3, 217-23)
Ironically, Brutus's speech is better than his next move. Brutus wants to attack Antony's and Octavius's armies right away. Cassius wants to wait. Cassius was right. Brutus's premise was right, but his action was wrong. Overriding Cassius, they attack and lose the war.
Nevertheless, timing often makes the difference between winning and losing. General Motors was late to the SUV (sport utility vehicle) market. The Ford Explorer got a great head start on the General Motors Bravado, and Lincoln's Navigator has left the Cadillac Esplanade to eat its dust. If General Motors ever catches up, it will take years to do it. On the other hand, you can rush to market too soon -- either before the demand can be established or before your product or service is right. In 1956, Ford rushed its Mercury Cruiser to dealers so fast that instructions were included on how to fix the defects that had not been corrected at the plant. It was a disaster -- and one it certainly learned from. In fairness to Ford, its unseemly rush was caused more by an ambitious vice president than by policy. The lesson, however, remains.
How does one know when the "time and tide" are right? I have found that the best answer is rigorous analysis followed by insight and intuition. There are, of course, the great intuitive leaders, whose gut feelings are better than a conference room full of market researchers. But, when you scratch these so-called intuitive leaders deeply enough, you'll find both experience and analysis there. I would not trust my intuition to solve a problem in Boolean algebra, but I would trust it to time a supermarket promotion or the introduction of a new consumer product. Intuition that is not backed up by experience and hours of internal debate is worthless.
However, I don't want to make the choice of the right moment sound like a one-man or one-woman band. When I have had to make timing decisions without the benefit of experience, here's the process that has served me well. I fill a conference room with market researchers and, just as important, people who are close to what I call "the point of contact" -- people close to the work (production) and those close to the customers (salespeople). We engage in a vigorous debate -- no holds barred -- everyone has a voice. I enter the debate from time to time, but I try to listen more than talk. I thank the people for their hard work and insights, then I go fishing, play golf, read a Shakespeare play, or take a walk -- anything that will let my subconscious take over, sort out conflicting viewpoints, synthesize other viewpoints. When I'm lucky, the answer will come to me, uninvited, within a few days. If that doesn't happen, I take the initiative. My timing has not always been right, but on those occasions when I have been wrong, the early analysis and debate then helped me correct my course.
Henry IV didn't know Brutus (except, of course, in the imagination of William Shakespeare, a man whose timing was impeccable), but Henry did know that "there was a tide in the affairs of men." He used time to his advantage in deposing Richard II. He also considered the counsel of others, such as Northumberland, Westmoreland, and Sir Walter Blunt, but throughout his reign the decisions and the timing were his.
Earlier, we referred to the speech when Henry was deploying his forces for the battle of Shrewsbury. The line I will never forget is: "Advantage feeds him fat while men delay" (King Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV understood power and he used it. He also understood that he was in an ideological battle.Ideologies -- the Great Divide
In the business world, most differences of opinion can be accommodated through negotiation and compromise. However, occasionally they cannot. It is important to understand when they can and when they cannot. When they cannot, it is usually because of ideological differences. Some people might say that the term ideological
applies only to religious and political differences -- it is too strong to describe business. Having spent half a century in the business trenches, I disagree. Business issues can become as polarized as the Serbs and the ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia. The arguments at IBM -- mainframes versus all the other alternatives -- and the old arguments at Apple Computer over whether the operating system should be proprietary or open became as hotly contested as the clashes between liberal and conservative politicians -- or as those between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses. I imagine that the arguments at Motorola were similar. Not too many years ago, Motorola controlled 60 percent of the cellular phone market, using analog technology. Then came the upstarts, led by Nokia, using digital technology. Technology choices often create divides; choice of technology becomes ideological. Once a commitment is made, it is hard to back down, hard to mobilize the resources to change direction. Nokia swept the market. Ironically, Motorola had always had a presence in digital radios, satellites, and the communications infrastructure, but not in the cell phones themselves. When the retail market suddenly turned toward digital, Motorola had not invested adequate resources and struggled for two years to catch up.
Eastman Kodak is in the same boat. Once the world leader in silver halide technology, it is now facing the new world of digital photography. But that is not the only ideological battle that was being fought in this once great company. There were those who believed that the mystique of the yellow box (Kodak) was so strong that those "foreigners" with the green box (Fuji) could never unseat them. Armed with this arrogance, Kodak kept its prices so high and trade practices so rigid that it unwittingly issued Fuji an engraved invitation to enter the U.S. market.
One need only take a cursory look at the business pages for further confirmation of how damaging ideological conflicts can be, particularly if they are not dealt with quickly or forcefully. In addition to IBM, Motorola, and Eastman Kodak, consider these:
- Goldman Sachs' internecine struggle over whether the firm should remain private or be taken public.
- Compaq's acquisition of Digital -- a decidedly different and a troubled company. Mixing Digital's engineers with Compaq's go-go guys was like mixing matches and gasoline.
- Chrysler management felt they should conserve their cash for a rainy day, while Kirk Kerkorian wanted the cash distributed immediately. This disagreement will seem like child's play compared with the ideological differences between Chrysler's American-style management and the buttoned-down style of the German managers at Daimler-Benz. These differences are not just cultural.
Indeed, mergers and acquisitions are breeding grounds for ideological differences. It would be a joy to believe that not only could these ideological differences be resolved, but that a richer, more satisfying culture could come forth out of opposing mind-sets. Tina Packer swears that creative processes are most potent when opposite truths are held in one moment and you step forward. She says a different answer, one you haven't thought of, appears. Tina's approach is certainly worth a try. I embrace it but at the same time offer this caution: The debate -- rather than the action -- can become the goal. Why waste time? When the debate goes on too long, the enterprise falls into a hopeless tangle. In the end, when the cultures are widely divergent, efforts to solve pressing issues with discussion and debate usually fall victim to the side with the most power. When the dominant entity recognizes that the issues are ideological and widely divergent, it should take charge and call the tune. If it doesn't, there is a real danger that the enterprise will lose focus and collapse in hopeless wrangling.When Ideologies Are Intractable
Blinkered leaders often do not understand ideological opposition; do not understand that on the other side of the argument, there is another general who has beliefs as fierce and deeply held. He too has followers. And if the opponent loses a battle, he too will be prepared to retreat and regroup so he can fight again. If the battle is already joined, the military analogy is instructive. First, the general looks to his army: Are his soldiers trained? Do they have physical stamina? Do they have the emotional stamina to advance in the face of hostile fire? Is the army big enough? If not, recruiters must be trained who can enlist others into the cause. As the army is being consolidated, the leader recruits resistance groups behind the lines; and his first barrage is not bombs or bullets, but broadcasts and leaflets. Psychological warfare is engaged, not necessarily to sway officers or the opposition, but to sow doubts and fear in the foot soldiers and those who are wavering. When Octavius Caesar is preparing for the decisive battle against Mark Antony (in Antony and Cleopatra,
the follow-up to Julius Caesar),
he puts the soldiers who have defected from Mark Antony in the front lines, so that Antony's men can see that already they have lost great numbers of their comrades. When the psychological battle is being won, only then does the army advance. With luck, the general will find some weak spots, win a few fast skirmishes, give the troops a taste of victory, and sow further doubts in the opposition's ranks. He'll recruit as many defectors as he can and seek to neutralize others who are wavering.
Then, as he mounts the first major battle, he must be prepared for both victory or defeat. If he wins the battle, he will know his next move. If the battle goes against him, he must know how his retreat will happen so he can quickly regroup to fight again.
Is the military analogy too strong for comparison with conflicts at Compaq and Digital, or among the executives at Goldman Sachs, Apple, IBM, Motorola, or Eastman Kodak? The correct course of action is usually apparent long before action is taken. In business there is never a guarantee that you will be right. But there is an overwhelming probability that the enterprise will suffer if the debate goes on too long. I have talked to many deposed leaders who admitted that they did
know what to do, but they failed to take decisive action quickly enough. So I'm not saying here that people should not have ideals or should always agree. As we shall see in subsequent chapters, ideas do not need to be congruent. Indeed, a strong case can be made for supporting mavericks in every organization. And everyone needs to know what he or she stands for. But when differences become so widely divergent that discussion ends and emotional positions take over, the differences are rarely reconcilable in a short span of time.
Then the military analogy holds true. This is particularly true when those who have power hold divergent opinions -- and are cunning enough to conceal their true intentions.When Ideological Differences Are Not Readily Apparent
It's not always easy to see ideological differences. A leader must be eternally vigilant -- should never be lulled into the belief that always and forever, he or she will know the location and strength of opposition. Coriolanus reluctantly agreed to address the Roman populace to seek approval for his election as a consul of Rome. He won that approval from the plebeians, only to lose it later because the tribunes -- middle managers -- feared and hated him. The tribunes reconvened the meeting, salting the crowd with other dissenters -- who were told what to say and when to say it. Ultimately, the populace disavowed their earlier support and banished their former hero from Rome. Coriolanus was a great warrior but a naive politician. He did not fully understand the strength of the opposition. Nor did he fully understand the consequences of profound ideological differences. The Romans with great cost had recently deposed a tyrant king, Tarquin the Proud, and established a republic. When the tribunes hinted that the autocratic Coriolanus was acting like Tarquin, the people became convinced that their republic would be in danger if an arrogant, patrician warrior were elected a consul of Rome. And Coriolanus confirmed their fears by refusing to understand their concerns. His behavior played into the ideologues' hands -- and the battle lines were drawn.
Julius Caesar had a similar problem. He had held power over the army for years. He was the leading general and the leader of the Senate. Rome was in a state of great unrest. Many leaders and ordinary people thought Rome would be better off under the tight rule of a king. They were pressing Julius Caesar to accept the office. This action by the people together with the fact that Caesar was not clearly opposing it -- indeed seemed at times to be considering it -- was all that Cassius, Brutus, and the other conspirators needed in order to act swiftly for their own ideological position: Rome must always remain a republic. They decided to kill Caesar. Caesar himself had a clear sense of mission about himself as leader of Rome and deeply held core values:
But I am constant as the northern star...
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank
Unshak'd of motion; and that I am he...
Julius Caesar (3.1, 60-70)
Brave, thrilling words! Chilling words, also, for only seconds after uttering them, this unassailable star had fallen from the sky. If Caesar could speak from the grave, he well might ask us to consider "when is constancy not a virtue, but a vice?"
What went wrong? Brutus, the chief conspirator who kills Caesar, is not evil. Indeed, he is an "honorable man" -- and he was Caesar's friend. But between them, as Caesar rose in power, a deep ideological gulf appeared. The Romans had fought for almost five hundred years -- since before Coriolanus's time -- for their hard-won republic. Brutus's father-in-law, Cato, had undoubtedly made an indelible impression on Brutus's already deeply held beliefs. Several years earlier, when Cato, a staunch conservative and fierce defender of the republic, had faced imminent defeat by Caesar in civil war, he had had two choices: to surrender and abjectly receive Caesar's magnanimous offer of pardon, or to die. After debating through the night with his family about the nature of freedom, he decided that one could be truly free only in death; he killed himself the next morning. That is a man who stands by his ideals! And he's also dead, like Caesar.
Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators, in their fear that Caesar will turn the republic back into a monarchy with Caesar wearing the crown, decide not to debate the issue but act. After
the death Brutus defends the assassination on ideological grounds -- that Caesar was ambitious. He says to the crowd:
...not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.
Julius Caesar (3.2, 21-27)
So, even though Caesar was "constant as the northern star" and had a clear sense of mission and deeply held core values, he, like Coriolanus, did not fully understand the source and strength of the opposition. Indeed, Caesar had come to believe that the adulation he received from the crowds and foreign potentates was universally given. His dying words, as Brutus stabs him, "Et tu, Brute?" are spoken in profound disbelief.Ideological Differences -- Preventive Maintenance
Be careful. Shakespeare reveals another secret of successful and enduring leadership: Be strong in your convictions, but not so rigid that you don't understand the arguments on the other side. On some occasions, accommodations can be made that will forestall any need for the warfare we have just described.
Great leaders understand the enemy. Coriolanus, as a leader, was great in understanding Aufidius, great in understanding soldiers, terrible in understanding civilians. Coriolanus recognized his own prowess, but he failed to see that the people had power too. Instead of fighting back politically or understanding the fears of the Roman people, Coriolanus spewed insults at them:
You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o' th' rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air: I banish you!
Coriolanus (3.3, 120-24)
And thus, instead of allaying their suspicions, he only confirms them. His own mother warns him, "You are too absolute." She even points out to him that he aligns strategy and honor when he's in battle -- why can't he do it in peace?
...I have heard you say,
Honour and policy, like unsever'd friends,
I' th' war do grow together: grant that, and tell me,
In peace what each of them by th'other lose,
That they combine not there.
Coriolanus (3.2, 41-45)
Your enemies might be telling you the thing you need to know. Instead of going into ideological opposition, see if you think there is any merit to their argument. If there is, use it. It pulls the teeth of their argument. Yet every day, modern business leaders fall from grace because they lock their minds too soon. As we said earlier, if after careful thought you truly believe that you are right and others are wrong, you have few options other than using your persuasion or power to change their minds. And not everything is right or wrong. An open mind before a debate begins can work wonders. Yes, it is difficult to recognize that others are as strong in their beliefs as we are in ours. However, being "constant as the northern star" is the sole property of no one. If you rush to turn strong principles into dogma, you have lost flexibility and you might have forgotten that power is r