My favorite bit if advice in Sun Tzu's The Art of War, is that "every battle is won or lost before it is fought." Sun Tzu was referring to the preparation, positioning, and planning that make the difference in the success of a war. That, and knowing when to refuse to fight.
Corporate "battles" usually consist of behind the scenes politicing, and only rarely break out into visible "combat." Nevertheless, Sun Tzu's sage advice still applies -- you have to carefully think through the entire scenario, including how you could win (or lose), and how your opponent is likely to act before you engage in a pitched battle. Otherwise, you're likely to be on the receiving end of a defeat that could include a damaged reputation or even termination.
I personally preferred to get my opponents into a spot where their only option is to do what I wanted, or suffer worse consequences. These usually result in "bloodless" victories, but not always.
For example, I once got into an ongoing conflict with one of my peers over interdivisional pricing. He supplied product to me, and wanted to significantly raise the price. I had an easy solution to the problem -- make the product myself -- but it was not a great solution from the perspective of my boss. Making the product myself was cheaper for me, but it would have added significant transportation costs to the corporation if I went that direction. What I really wanted was for the current arrangement to continue. So rather than calling his bluff by taking the business away from him, I sent a polite email detailing why I didn't think his demand for a price increase was "fair", and also describing why my internalizing the work was a bad idea for the company as a whole. He replied with a nasty email, and eventually both notes ended up on the desk of our mutual boss (which I had anticipated for the beginning), who settled the dispute in my favor.
The point is -- I could see where this was going right from the start, and I laid out a plan to make sure I would win the battle with minimal casualties (damage to my reputation). I could have very easily agreed to my peer's demands for the price increase, and then made a big deal about the lack of comparability year on year in my own business, but that was a less attractive option. In this case, it was better to fight, and critical to have a winning strategy before the battle began.
One of my former bosses wasn't quite so insightful. He declared war on his own boss (our company CEO) by having a private meeting with the board's lead director where he explained why he would be a better choice to run the company. Unfortunately for him, he had lost the war as soon as he decided to fight this particular battle. The CEO had an excellent performance record, and he spent plenty of time managing his relationships with the board members -- particularly with this lead director. There was no way the usurper was going to ever convince the director that the CEO was a bad choice for the job, and there was even less of a chance he'd persuade the man that he would be the ideal replacement.
The lead director called the CEO right after the meeting, and explained to him what my former boss wanted, and gave the CEO permission to get rid of him. That's how he became my former boss.
Proper planning, strategy,and execution of your political battles is essential to preventing a painful loss. If you don't have a winning plan, then if all possible, you should avoid fighting the battle. 11.3
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If you are intriqued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out my other writing.
Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS