Forget the election, the showdown between President Obama and Gov. Romney was nothing compared to some of the leadership wars I've seen in corporate America. For those of us who have witnessed firsthand a fight for power over a project, division or high-profile initiative, we know this: When the battle is over and the winner has celebrated their victory with supporters, there is an unpleasant residue that must be dealt with. It's like a hangover, the flu bug and food poisoning all wrapped up into one nasty feeling: The need to work with the people who fought against you.
Both sides suffer this intense malady, which makes for a challenging road to effective collaboration.
Office Opponents Don't Die -- They Dig In Their Heels
Sadly, in most cases, the result is gridlock. Incredible energy is exerted on both sides only to see nothing get done. The negativity and ill-will created from this feels like a chronic illness. It drains both sides to such a degree that disengagement occurs. However, I have seen a few cases where the virus is beaten and a healthy, successful collaboration comes to life. In those cases, the following three actions were put into play by the winner:
1. Acknowledgement that there was no sweeping victory.
Bragging about how the better team prevailed without admitting to the fact that a significant number of people weren't behind the winning side's efforts is a stinging slap-in-the face that leaves a mark. Don't expect people to make the collaboration process easy when all they can remember is the faces and attitudes of the gloating winners. Make a point to show respect for the other side's ability to build a substantial following. To get that many people behind them means they must have been doing something right. Which leads to No. 2...
Being confident in your abilities means recognizing a good idea -- especially, when it's not yours. Finding something of value in the losing side's game plan is worth putting on your own agenda. Instead of making it a total loss, they can now see at least some of their plan come to life. Which leads us to the last key technique for success...
3. Focus on building the right solution, not on proving the right side won.
Smart leaders always remember that: A) nobody is perfect, and B) winning doesn't make you right. Instead of focusing on sticking by your winning game plan at all costs, it's better to commit to reaching the goal, even if it means changing direction or adopting more than a few of the other sides' ideas. Leaders who let go of their pride and desire to validate their win are seen as more open and make it easier for the other side to want to work with them. It's called humility -- and it does wonders for bringing two sides together.
When leaders sincerely and publicly put the emotions and competitive atmosphere leading up to their victory behind them, using the three actions above, they become free to focus on ensuring that their former opponents feel validated and motivated. This is what it takes to make an enemy and ally. More importantly, this ensures that the anger and frustration between the sides melts away, leaving room for great acts of unity.
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