A concise introduction

by Richard Pettinger

Chapter 8

The main things here to know and be able to work with are:
  • how to establish and use your own influence, as the result of the position that you hold, and the respect with which you are regarded
  • where the sources of power and influence that you have come from; and where the courses of influence that your people have come from
  • why some people and groups are powerful and influential and others are not
  • how to use and exercise power and influence responsibly.
We have all come across bullies and tyrants; and we all hate them! In some cases people behave as bullies because they want to and because they can; in other cases they mistake this for being forward and strident. The result is always damaging and destructive – and often very expensive in terms of loss of staff and production and output, and loss of staff morale, and damages to those who sue you!

It follows from this that it is necessary to recognise the potential for conflict in any organisation. Conflict is a fact of human life; and so it exists in all organisations and groups of people. You have to be able to recognise the sources, causes and symptoms, and to be ale to address the issues according to the situation and the personalities involved. You have to able to assess any conflict from the point of view of what you want the outcome to be, what the desired outcomes are on the part of everyone involved, and what the consequences of particular courses of action would be or might be.
  • Case Studies and Examples
  • Discussion Questions
  • Web links

Case studies and examples

The CEO’s secretary

Kathleen Marsden was secretary and executive assistant to the CEO of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Based at the company head office in London, she has for many years now had dealings with top, senior and influential figures from the company’s locations in 90 different countries. It was a company myth that anyone who needed the support of the CEO had first to be on good terms with Kathleen.

Kathleen had started at the company as a graduate trainee after university. Rather than seeking executive or management positions for herself however, she found herself asked to work in the CEO’s office after two years at the company, and had remained ever since. She worked as staff officer, project officer, and now for the past twenty years directly with the CEO himself.

Kathleen’s key responsibilities are to manage the CEO’s busy schedule and to make sure that he gets to see important clients, top and senior figures from industry and politics; and that he keeps a weekly update on the company’s trading position and finances. She organises his meetings with key financiers and shareholders.

Now, after nine years in post, the CEO has departed. The first action of the new CEO is to bring in her own executive assistant. Kathleen has been told that she can either move to a senior corporate position, or she can take a very advantageous severance package and leave.

You need to consider:
  • the amount of power that Kathleen has had over the period;
  • the amount of influence that she has had, and the different ways in which she might have used this influence;
  • the reasoning behind the new CEO in bringing in her own appointee;
  • the ways in which Kathleen’s fund of knowledge could and should be used, and the ways in which this knowledge should not be used;
  • the value that she might deliver to a competitor.

Discussion questions

Where does the potential for conflict lie in the relationship between a hospital manager who has a budget to work to, and a surgeon who has a backlog of operations to carry out?

Why do people resort to bullying behaviour, even though they know that it is wrong, and even when they have suffered from it themselves in the past?

How do you go about finding out who are ‘the right people to know’ in an organisation? Once you have identified them, how do you go about building relationships with them? In this kind of approach, practical as it may be, what are the ethical issues involved?

Web links to other examples, materials and sources

In the management of conflict at work, two sources are critical and you need them

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) at will provide expert guides on addressing a variety of conflict situations and the means of resolving them.

The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) at also provides expert guidance. There are free booklets on the management of conflict, and the advice and approach of ACAS carries a (presumed but not absolute) force of national standards of practice; this means that if you did not follow their guidance you might have to explain why.