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software was his destiny. He joined Microsoft in 1986 and became the leader of its OS/2 effort. When he was assigned informal oversight of Windows NT, he got a frosty welcome:
As he began meeting regularly with Cutler on NT matters, Maritz often found himself the victim of slights. Once Maritz innocently suggested to Cutler that “We should—” Cutler interrupted, “We! Who’s we? You mean you and the mouse in your pocket?” Maritz brushed off such retorts, even !nding humor in Cutler’s apparently inexhaustible supply of epithets. He refused to allow Cutler to draw him into a brawl. Instead, he hoped Cutler would “volunteer” for greater responsibility as the shortcomings of the status quo became more apparent (Zachary, 1994, p. 76).
Maritz enticed Cutler with tempting challenges. In early 1990, he asked Cutler if he could put together a demonstration of NT for COMDEX, the industry’s biggest trade show. Cutler took the bait. Maritz knew that the effort would expose NT’s weaknesses (Zachary, 1994). When Gates subsequently seethed that NT was too late, too big, and too slow, Maritz scrambled to “!lter that stuff from Dave” (p. 208). Maritz’s patience eventually paid off when he was promoted to head all operating systems development:
The promotion gave Maritz formal and actual authority over Cutler and the entire NT project. Still, he avoided confrontations, preferring to wait until Cutler came to see the bene!ts of Maritz’s views. Increasingly Cutler and his inner circle viewed Maritz as a powerhouse, not an empty suit. “He’s critical to the project,” said [one of Cutler’s most loyal lieutenants]. “He got into it a little bit at a time. Slowly he blended his way in until it was obvious who was running the show. Him” (Zachary, 1994, p. 204).
Chapter 9’s account of the Columbia and Challenger cases drives home a chilling lesson about political pressures sidetracking momentous decisions. The implosion of !rms such as Enron, WorldCom, and Portugal’s oldest bank, Banco Espírito Santo, shows how the unfettered pursuit of self-interest by powerful executives can bring even a huge corporation to its knees. Many believe that the antidote is to get politics out of management. But this is unrealistic. Enduring differences lead to multiple interpretations of what’s true and what’s important. Scarce resources trigger contests about who gets what. Interdependence means that people cannot ignore one another; they need each other’s assistance, support, and resources. Under such conditions, efforts to eliminate politics are futile and
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counterproductive. Aruna Roy’s passion and persistence and Paul Maritz’s deft combina- tion of patience and diplomacy offer hope—positive examples of the manager as construc- tive politician.
Kotter (1985) contends that too many managers are either naive or cynical about organizational politics. Pollyannas view the world through rose-colored glasses, assuming that most people are good, kind, and trustworthy. Cynics believe the opposite: Everyone is sel!sh, things are always cutthroat, and “get them before they get you” is the best survival tactic. Brown and Hesketh (2004) documented parallel stances among college job seekers. The naive “purists” believed hiring was fair and they’d be rewarded on their merits if they presented themselves honestly. The more cynical “players” gamed the system and tried to present themselves as whatever they thought employers wanted. In Kotter’s view, neither extreme is realistic or effective: “Organizational excellence . . . demands a sophisticated type of social skill: a leadership skill that can mobilize people and accomplish important objectives despite dozens of obstacles; a skill that can pull people together for meaningful purposes despite the thousands of forces that push us apart; a skill that can keep our corporations and public institutions from descending into a mediocrity characterized by bureaucratic in!ghting, parochial politics, and vicious power struggles” (p. 11).
In a world of chronic scarcity, diversity, and con”ict, the nimble manager walks a tightrope: developing a direction, building a base of support, and cobbling together working relations with both allies and opponents. In this chapter, we discuss why this is vital and then lay out the basic skills of the manager as politician. Finally, we tackle ethical issues, the soft underbelly of organizational politics. Is it possible to play politics and still do the right thing? We discuss four instrumental values to guide ethical choice.
POLITICAL SKILLS The manager as politician exercises four key skills: agenda-setting (Kanter, 1983; Kotter, 1988; Pfeffer, 1992; Smith, 1988), mapping the political terrain (DeLuca, 1999; Pfeffer, 1992; Pichault, 1993), networking and building coalitions (Brass and Krackhardt, 2012; Burt, 1992; DeLuca, 1999; Kanter, 1983; Kotter, 1982, 1985, 1988; Kurchner-Hawkins and Miller, 2006; Pfeffer, 1992; Smith, 1988), and bargaining and negotiating (Bellow and Moulton, 1978; Fisher and Ury, 1981; Lax and Sebenius, 1986).
Agenda Setting Structurally, an agenda outlines a goal and a schedule of activities. Politically, an agenda is a statement of interests and a scenario for getting the goods. In re”ecting on his experience as
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a university president, Warren Bennis arrived at a deceptively simple observation: “It struck me that I was most effective when I knew what I wanted” (1989, p. 20). Kanter’s study of internal entrepreneurs in American corporations (1983), Kotter’s analysis of effective corporate leaders (1988), and Smith’s examination of effective U.S. presidents (1988) all reached a similar conclusion: Regardless of the role you’re in, the !rst step in effective political leadership is setting an agenda.
The effective leader creates an “agenda for change” with two major elements: a vision balancing the long-term interests of key parties, and a strategy for achieving the vision while recognizing competing internal and external forces (Kotter, 1988). Aruna Roy always knew she wanted to do something for the poor, but she had to live and work with them over time to develop an agenda rooted in their needs and concerns. Her effectiveness increased dramatically when she seized on information transparency. The agenda must convey direction while addressing concerns of major stakeholders. Kanter (1983) and Pfeffer (1992) underscore the intimate tie between gathering information and developing a vision. Pfeffer’s list of key political attributes includes “sensitivity”—knowing how others think and what they care about so that your agenda responds to their concerns: “Many people think of politicians as arm-twisters, and that is, in part, true. But in order to be a successful arm- twister, one needs to know which arm to twist, and how” (p. 172).
Kanter adds: “While gathering information, entrepreneurs can also be ‘planting seeds’— leaving the kernel of an idea behind and letting it germinate and blossom so that it begins to “oat around the system from many sources other than the innovator” (1983, p. 218). Paul Maritz did just that. Ignoring Dave Cutler’s barbs and insults, he focused on getting information, building relationships, and formulating an agenda. He quickly concluded that the NT project was in disarray and that Cutler had to take on more responsibility. Maritz’s strategy was attuned to his quarry: “He protected Cutler from undue criticism and resisted the urge to reform him. [He] kept the peace by exacting from Cutler no ritual expressions of obedience” (Zachary, 1994, pp. 281–282).
A vision without a strategy remains an illusion. A strategy has to recognize major forces working for and against the agenda. Smith’s point about U.S. presidents captures the importance of focus for managers at every level:
The paramount task and power of the president is to articulate the national purpose: to !x the nation’s agenda. Of all the big games at the summit of American politics, the agenda game must be won !rst. The effectiveness of the presidency and the capacity of any president to lead depend on focusing the nation’s political attention and its energies on two or three top priorities. From
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the standpoint of history, the “ow of events seems to have immutable logic, but political reality is inherently chaotic: it contains no automatic agenda. Order must be imposed (1988, p. 333).
Agendas never come neatly packaged. The bigger the job, the harder it is to wade through the clutter and !nd order amid chaos. Contrary to Woody Allen’s dictum, success requires more than just showing up. High of!ce, even if the incumbent enjoys great personal popularity, is no guarantee. In his !rst year as president, Ronald Reagan was remarkably successful following a classic strategy for winning the agenda game: “First impressions are critical. In the agenda game, a swift beginning is crucial for a newpresident to establish himself as leader—to show the nation that hewillmake a difference in people’s lives. The !rst 100 days are the vital test; in those weeks, the political community and the public measure a new president—to see whether he is active, dominant, sure, purposeful” (Smith, 1988, p. 334).
Reagan began with a vision but without a strategy. He was not a gifted manager or strategist, despite extraordinary ability to portray complex issues in broad, symbolic brushstrokes. Reagan’s staff painstakingly studied the !rst 100 days of four predecessors. They concluded that it was essential to move with speed and focus. Pushing competing issues aside, they focused on two: cutting taxes and reducing the federal budget. They also discovered a secret weapon in David Stockman, the one person in the Reagan White House who understood the federal budget process. “Stockman got a jump on everyone else for two reasons: he had an agenda and a legislative blueprint already prepared, and he understood the real levers of power. Two terms as a Michigan congressman plus a network of key Republican and Democratic connections had taught Stockman how to play the power game” (Smith, 1988, p. 351). Reagan and his advisers had the vision; Stockman provided strategic direction.
Mapping the Political Terrain It is foolhardy to plunge into a mine!eld without knowing where explosives are buried, yet managers unwittingly do it all the time. They launch a new initiative with little or no effort to scout and master the political turf. Pichault (1993) suggests four steps for developing a political map:
1. Determine channels of informal communication.
2. Identify principal agents of political in”uence.
3. Analyze possibilities for mobilizing internal and external players.
4. Anticipate counterstrategies that others are likely to employ.
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