Just after hearing former Governor Romney’s concession speech and President Obama’s acceptance speech last week, I received a “funny” e-mail with the Democratic side of an ethnic group placing curses on the Republican side.
I didn’t find it funny at all. But it did remind me of the need for leaders in all. But it did remind me of the need for leaders in all walks of life to win and lose battles with grace – if they want the respect of their teams and their broader community even after the battle has ended.
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney delivered speeches that showed high respect for one another after a hugely antagonistic presidential election campaign. They both pledged to support the decision of the majority. Of course, they both thanked those who helped them win. They both reminded us that we are one nation, one community of people; that we will hurt our common cause if we continue to be a divided people.
CEOs and business leaders at all levels must learn this critical lesson. We lead teams in competitive situations in business as well as politics. Sometimes companies battle and at other times executives within a company are at odds. Leaders must heal their teams after the battle is finished until the community reunites as one camp and one team.
In politics, this is a tall order. However, in business it is both possible and essential. The communities of business—individual companies, industries and geographical regions—are small relative to our nation. But our careers and the lives of our companies are long. If we let bad blood remain, it will cost us dearly in the future.
As a CEO for 22 years, I acquired four competitors. To integrate each one successfully, I had to make sure their top teams perceived their new firm favorably – a firm that was once a competitor. This work was done in the years before the acquisitions, where despite being competitors, we kept the intensity of rivalry in check. We worked together in industry associations for the common good of the industry. We viewed the relationship as much greater than winning or losing a single bid.
Within industries and politics, players change sides. Spirited and crucial debates rage within companies from time to time. Yet once the leader of a company makes a decision, everyone must pull together as one and leave the disagreements behind.
Leaders must decide a few fundamental questions when thinking about any clash between companies:
1. Do you care about limiting the level of animosity between the combatants over time? Perhaps Coke and Pepsi will never need to collaborate, and the fewer connections among executives between the firms, the better. Yet with firms like Apple and Samsung, with so many different products and technologies, can we say with certainty that they’ll never need to collaborate anywhere? I doubt it.
2. How divisive will you allow a clash to become? Re-establishing diplomatic relations after a very divisive battle will be more difficult, and in some cases is impossible. CEOs can settle disputes or debates sooner, or later, unlike political contests where Election Day always marks the end. CEOs can give up on lost causes quickly or fight on to the bitter end. Companies dominating the battle for market share can offer a conciliatory gesture to losing competitors, allowing them to save face. Or it can crush them, Donald Trump style.
3. What process will the two camps use to heal after the battle is over? A leader’s speech is only a starting point. Whether it is finding a new “common enemy” as a tool to bring the camps together, or a series of carefully orchestrated efforts to find compromise on key issues, it may take as long to normalize relations as it did to fight the battle that divided it.
Most business leaders I know have their partisan opinions. But they all want to see our government come together to make rational decisions so the nation can move forward. The fiscal cliff is just one issue that jumps to mind.
Nevertheless, we CEOs must realize that in our own offices, our own companies, and our own industries we lead battles that can become highly divisive and destructive. We must urge our teams to offer contrary opinions that respect each other’s views and objectives. And when the internal battles end, we must bring the camps back together for their own benefit and the benefit of the companies we lead.
Well documented! ~ Alicia J. Alexander, Image Werks Corp.
See on www.forbes.com
Curated and Published by: Image Werks Corporation