Leadership on Point

Critical Thinking and Deconstruction of Leadership Assumptions (Part II)

October 21, 2011 Dr. Johnny Magwood - Guest Author

Example of Executive Leadership’s Politics at Work

Understanding executive politics is vital for personal career success and downright survival.  If we would carefully observe and examine the dynamics of our executive team, we would discover that they are accomplished individuals who apply their skills and talents to advance the business – everyday.  One useful method relative to navigating the C-Suite environment is to have an astute understanding of self and how you are perceived by your peers.  Your boss is essentially interested in your performance, stellar interpersonal skills, and how well you interact with peers; those who possess strong personalities, in a demanding business environment.  As we reflect on executive decision quality, however, we may conclude that our decisions are fundamentally good.  However, let me share an example of poor decision quality vis-à-vis a specific company’s rollout of a new market based compensation program, which generated a social shock to and within this particular company.

In essence, the new compensation policy instantly reduced employees’ pay and in many instances, some employees were not to receive a pay raise for the next five years.  Without a doubt, there were fallacies in the decision making process to produce and deliver such a reckless pay program (driven by market based pay versus employee performance) to thousands of employees.  The perceived benefits of reducing operation cost via salaries reduction were quickly circumvented by low employee morale and decreased productivity.   Critical thinking did not exist in this instance.  A “thinking socratically,” workshop would have provided the appropriate questioning and open dialogue to reach the best conclusion (Schwarze & Lape, 2001).  A future assessment revealed that executive politics and selective augments drove toward the decision to install the troubling pay policy.  As stated by Kirby & Goodpaster (2002),


“Politics also reveal itself in the English language.  In the 1940s George Orwell, in his famous article ‘Politics and the English Language,’ declared that the decline of England was reflected in the sloppiness of the English language. Few professionals have sought to corroborate Orwell’s connection between language and values.  However, if we take a look at the use of words by the U.S. government, the Orwellian observation gains creditability.  In the 1970s government reports referred to civilian deaths in Vietnam as “collateral damage…”


This example, collateral damage, demonstrates how we are influenced through tricky words. Similarly, in corporate America, this example is the norm relative to how a few executives may and can exploit our lack of understanding logical augments; while they achieve their personal agendas.


Written by Dr. Johnny D. Magwood, vice president customer experience & chief customer officer, Northeast Utilities Service Company.