One of the boss’s tricks certainly could be to rule by the so-called divide and conquer principle. For those of you, who do not know what this exactly is or who might have experienced this, but did not recognize it as such, please read on and I will make it clear for you. I am giving two examples, plus possible ways out of these frustrating situations.
It was Machiavelli, an Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance, who, in the first half of the sixteenth century, wrote in his book “Il Principe”, the ‘divide and rule’ strategy, intended as advice for the weaker ruler. Unfortunately, five centuries later it turns out that this strategy is still very much alive and in full standing in the unwritten handbook for the managers of this world.
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How does it work in practice?
Example number 1:
Joy is a young, ambitious team coordinator. Besides her work as a professional, she does the planning, holiday schedules, staffing problems during illness for the whole team. With some regularity her colleagues, if something does not please them, go to the department head, who subsequently reverses her decisions just like that. Because of this policy, there will be gaps, in which she jumps in to help because her loyalty to colleagues and customers is huge. Joy concludes that she has many responsibilities, but not the corresponding powers. Her frustration over the lack of support from the manager increases.
At this point, she went to the manager to discuss the situation with him. His response: “You wanted this job yourself and this is part of it. If you cannot handle this then you might not fit in. For you, I can take another. Several of your colleagues found that you are very strict and rigid in handling affairs. They would happily take over from you. So it’s up to you, just tell me what you want”.
Joy feels that she is played off against these unnamed colleagues who would like to find something negative about her and would like to get rid of her, while she herself does not feel that at all.
Example number 2:
Personally, at one time during my career, I was assigned to set up a new department in a big company and was reporting to the highest boss only. The new way of managing, that I introduced as necessary to support the new structure, went against the existing organizational matrix. Of course, I went at loggerheads with the affected current management, who went complaining to the big boss, who backed them up, leaving me exactly where? That became very clear in a discussion with the number one, who concluded that apparently I was not fit for the job. End of story!
What was happening here?
It is the mark of divide and rule: the manager is turning his back to you: it’s your problem, solve it yourself. If you cannot fix it, you are obviously not suitable. Your commitment will be put under severe pressure. They play people off against each other, push the responsibility to others and themselves remain outside the firing line. Or they try to achieve results through you in a shadowy game that’s bigger than yourself. Without you knowing it, you are used as a pawn.
Bosses with an issue
Many managers see it as a dilemma that their performance is dependent on their employees and their performance. Dependency does not feel pleasant, so these managers choose, doubtless unconsciously, to turn the case around. You ensure as ‘leader’ that your people are depending on you. You achieve this by exercising power. Divide and conquer is a subtle, often elusive way to do it. Divide and rule are making leaders apparently untouchable. This strategy reinforces, at least in the short term, their power. But history shows that such rulers sooner or later fall. Rulers take more than they give, and at one point in time, the balance will be restored.
What can you do?
My choice was that it was time to move on, a legitimate choice for yourself, but the pattern could continue. You can accept the status quo but at the expense of yourself. There are two other, more fundamental ways to break out of a divide and conquer. Set it on the agenda, let him know you do not find it ethical and indicate that you will not go along with it. That will probably mean a conflict, but I feel it is better to stand up for yourselves.
Find like-minded colleagues
You can also widen the matter to find out peers, who are almost always there in these situations. You then have the possibility to go to management as a group, which will make you stronger. These kinds of patterns tend not to work anymore as soon as they are brought to light. It should be clear that it takes a lot of courage to go against the higher management or mainstream.
You could also try Human Resources, but they might not be on your side. Find out why here.
How should it work?
How totally different it would work if managers would realize that reducing dependence is originated in, cooperation, supporting each other, one facilitating the other, motivating others, making clear boundaries if necessary. Those managers benefit more from openness, transparency, clarity about responsibilities and powers, reasonable decisions.
Those are strong leaders who dare to expose themselves. In the examples described above such a leader will take his assistant seriously, work together to find everyone’s share in the current situation, find out together how it can be done differently and better and let everyone take the responsibility that fits him. In this way, a leader and his staff can learn from each other and further develop. This creates learning organizations, fun, energetic, open spaces, where people like to commit.
Conclusion + My number One recommendation
I know first-hand how difficult it is to be confronted with a boss who manages by the divide and conquer principle. If a boss is being nice to some people and not so nice to other people in his staff, he has automatically created divisiveness between his people. They will never be able to form one front against him and this is exactly what he is trying to achieve.
There are ways out of this, but most likely will lead to conflict.
Prepare for an escape!
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Feel free to share your experiences by leaving them in the comment box below. If you have any questions you can do the same and I will get back to you within 24 hours.
10 thoughts on “Divide and Conquer Tactics in Management – Solutions”
Very good concept on taking control of your life. So many times we think we need to get the best job out there or apply, apply, apply until we can’t stand it anymore instead of working at something that can build you lasting income from home. i like the fact that you mention Wealthy Affiliate as a program to do this as it’s a very good program
Hi Wil, that is exactly what this site is about. So many people have encountered bad bosses again and again, to the point where their future is bleak or even worse, their health is suffering. People should know that there is always a way out and working from home on your own internet business, in the market niche of your own choice is one of the best possibilities. Any fears to start this are taken away by joining this Wealthy Affiliates program, which probably is the world’s best internet business support platform!
Jerry, I love this post. It’s clear that you are very knowledgeable about the management world. I found it sad that some folks would resort to these unethical methods to “control” their employees.
While creating your own business is not for everyone, I found it to suit me more than working a fully one job as well. And also, it’s true that there is nowhere better than WA to learn online marketing. I owe a lot of my success to the community and founders’ on-going support.
Thanks for sharing!
Hi Anh, well let us say that I have seen a lot of things during my 37 years of employment, most of them working for a boss. People in a job need to be aware of this practice and other malpractices by bosses that I am describing on this site. More importantly, they should know that something can be done about almost any situation that arises.
Getting away from the company jungles by creating your own internet business from home, is best done with the support of Wealthy Affiliate. This platform and community really is the best in the world and gives you the opportunity of a lifetime.
Excellent article, I was just browsing when I came across your article. Thank you for sharing this information with us, I have found some very useful pointers to take away with me. I know others will also benefit from it. You clearly know your stuff.
This principle I have never heard of but sounds like it is important to consider
again thank you for sharing, I know many people will benefit from knowing this now. I hope to hear from you soon, I will pop back in a few days to hear your response.
Hi Jack, as you can see these principle has been around for some time and it is still executed on all levels in society and especially in a work situation. I am glad you could take away something from this article, as knowing what divide and conquer is, will help you recognize it when it happens. You now might also be able to warn others. Cheers, Jerry
A most interesting and pointed post about some aspects of the corporate world. I spent a good few years in a large company and found a wide range of performers too. Some excellent, some OK and some more interested in themselves.
It is of note that the name Machiavelli has become part of our English language as a term to describe ‘evil’ behaviour. In fact from what I recall it was the whole family that was part of the plot. My guess is that they never anticipated going down in history like that.
One management tip I heard many years ago for better morale and performance was to turn the conventional operational organization chart upside down. So the top man is at the bottom and the bottom rung members are at the top. Then just as normal everyone works for the person above them on the upside down chart.
You get the picture – if we work for the best interests of the people who support us we are all better off and morale takes off as well
Thanks for a thoughtful post
Hi Ian, like in real politics, politics in the corporate world thrives. Everybody thinks short term, which benefits themselves. Like this some managers are not concerned about the company, let alone their staff. They take their salaries for an amount of time and then move on to the next company. They will use every tactic, including conquer and divide, to remain in position for a limited amount of time.
In my 36 year career I have never seen an open and transparent organization, where management is attracting the right people, training the people, put them in the right place, get the best out of them, giving them credit for performances delivered etc. I have only seen this in a dream-world on television and in books, where people can express their idealism. Unfortunately the real world is quite different.
It does not stop me, however, from continuing to expose mismanagement in the hope that some people, especially the “victims”, will see the light. Cheers, Jerry
I really like the view that this divide and conquer strategy is designed as a ruling parameter for weaker rulers – hit the nail right on the head there!
I’ve encountered many bosses in my time before I came online to work – all of them had their unique way of controlling employees ( not all of them good ways I may add! ). Love this article – a great read,
Hi Chris, unfortunately this “control” method is still in use by many managers. If people only would know how it works, they are already one step further in the process to a solution. Cheers, Jerry