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Career Advice: How to Stay Out of Political Battles Between Leaders


In your professional career, one of the least-discussed challenges is to maintain positive relationships with your peers and leaders.


In the latter stages of my career, when I reached middle and upper management, it became clear that even though most senior leaders got along well, there were times when one leader developed a professional disagreement with, or even a dislike for, another leader.


I have discussed this topic with other successful peers, and we basically agreed that this does occur in most organizations, it is not normally discussed, and that how you respond to such conflicts is an important skill and behavior to learn.


When these disagreements occurred, in general, the basis of the friction was never entirely clear. But if you paid attention and listened closely when these leaders had a discussion, or when one of the leaders was talking about the other, you could begin to understand the root cause of the friction.


Conflict could arise due to two leaders sensing that they were a candidate to get promoted to a key position, and they might talk discretely about the other leader’s weaknesses or problems. Conflict could arise due to differing backgrounds between leaders, or even what they each believed about people, how to lead, or about how to treat customers or employees.


At first, these conflicts struck me as something negative that was a source of concern to me and others. But eventually, I came to realize that people naturally have a diversity of opinions and views about important issues, and disagreements are a natural outcome of strong leaders having a variety of views.


In the end, I learned that if at all possible, it was important to distance yourself from personal conflicts and try not to take sides.


Taking sides is not in the interest of the company, as the company needs leaders to cooperate and get along. It is best to try to appreciate the views of all leaders, and to work to find common ground between differing views.


One of the best tests for how to respond to such conflicts was to ask yourself ‘How would the shareholder want you to behave?’


Here is a fictional example of a discussion that could easily occur while in a leadership position.

Let’s say that Kevin is the head of a large part of the organization, and he is talking to me about a recent presentation made by Jake to a senior team. (Kevin and Jake seemed to be rivals.)


Kevin: “Can you believe what Jake said about our last quarter’s numbers and successes? He basically talked as if he personally did all the work that created the success, when in reality, he was not even involved!”

Me: “Yep, I heard it, too; I was a little taken aback about it. He seemed to be discrediting you and our entire team by taking some of the credit!”

Kevin: “Right, you know, the next time you are talking to our CEO, you should share your feelings about Jake. I have talked to our CEO, but he seems to think I am the only one griping about Jake.”

Me: “You know, I think I will bring that up the next chance I get. I will support your view on this!”


So, in this fictional example, I made the mistake of positioning myself to take the side of Kevin and promising to gripe about a senior leader that was at or above my current level in the organization. For all I knew, Jake was a close friend or associate of the CEO, and I could have done myself a lot of harm.


Here is a better way that this could be handled:

Kevin: “Can you believe what Jake said about our last quarter’s numbers and successes? He basically talked as if he personally did all the work that created the success, when in reality, he was not even involved!”

Me: “Yep, I heard what he said, but you know, he is informally part of the team, albeit more by organization chart than working with the team day to day.”

Kevin: “Well, I think he was clearly trying to take credit, and in effect, he was taking away from even your work that was done to create the success. You know, the next time you are talking to our CEO, you should share your feelings about Jake. I have talked to him, but he seems to think I am the only one griping about Jake.”

Me: “You know, Kevin, I think I am going to just stay out of this debate. As much as I admire you and your perspective, it seems like you and Jake have some issues to work through. I do have to work with both of you, so I would rather not take sides. I think you are a solid leader, and the weight of what you say should go a long way with anyone else.”


In this example, let’s assume that after a few years, Kevin left the company for a better opportunity elsewhere, and Jake was promoted. It might have been a little uncomfortable being seen as in the ‘Kevin camp’ when he left.


So, when you encounter these sorts of conflicts, it is perfectly fine to just say very clearly, “I am not going to take sides in your conflict, sorry!” I can guarantee that the complainer will simply be looking for either emotional or active support, and will not hold it against you if you choose to remain neutral. In fact, they just might gain additional respect for you by your insistence on staying neutral and encouraging them to work through the issue on their own.

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Parts of this article were excerpted from several chapters in my new book “Changing Collars: Lessons in Transitioning from Blue-Collar Roots to White-Collar Success”.

(Daniel Muller is a business executive, expert on white-collar culture and soft skills, and author. To learn more, to contact him, to purchase the book, or to sign-up to his subscriber list,

visit his website.)


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Amazon / Booklocker / Barnes and Noble / Apple books / Kobo

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This best-selling book has hit #1 on his publisher's website in non-fiction. He has spoken to corporations, professional groups, students and clubs about this and other business topics, and is available for podcasts, team or individual consultations, seminars, and speaking engagements, including corporate training programs.

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