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Divide and rule is a very popular management/leadership style often practised in modern day corporate offices. Many of you might have experienced it. I believe there is no other leadership style so destructive in nature as this one.
How does the ‘Divide and Conquer’ style of management work?
It is a strategy of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power in a team/office into parts so that individuals in that team have less power than the one implementing the strategy.
The leader/manager’s own insecurity makes him/her intentionally create disharmony among team members.
The leader/manager goes about collecting information from the team about team-mates, discusses and is dismissive about subordinates in front of their peers, and pits one against the other.
When your boss divides to rule at the office it has some obvious outcomes – the subordinates would never come together as a team. The team, the projects and the company, all suffer from such managerial incompetence.
This is exactly what happened with my friend Sheila a few years back. Her promising career was ruined by her manager who used a divide and rule management style that not only stalled her progress but also compelled her to leave the new job soon after joining. Today I will share her experiences with you.
Sheila had been working as a digital marketer for years with good career prospects. But, when she moved to another city in India to start a full-fledged career in the same under the guidance of a senior manager, she had a dreadful experience.
During the interview Sheila was told she will be working as a strategist for a single project – a dedicated hiring, which she believed would enhance her career graph as she had never worked as a strategist before. Also, she would be under an experienced manager of 15 years in sales and marketing which would definitely be helpful to understand the trade. But to her utter dismay, Sheila found out that she was in the wrong hands.
The manager ruined the integration of the team with divide and rule policy!
Soon after joining the new job Sheila experienced something which gave her a clear indication that her manager had deployed this method to keep his seat intact in the company.
- There was no structured team with a defined leader to lead:- Sheila had always worked in a structured team with clearly defined hierarchy and assigned tasks. She knew the benefits of such a team structure and presence of a strong leader. But the manager refused to listen to her advice and dismissed the need of any. The manager was there to take the ultimate decisions. He doesn’t want to distribute power in the hands of others.
- Divide and rule policy led to unhealthy competition among the members in the same team:- On the very first day of joining Sheila was introduced as a strategic counterpart to Shakshi by their manager. Shakshi was a senior employee and a local candidate. She was taking care of the project for around four months. Both of them were warned that if anything goes wrong he would fire the person immediately. He gave examples of how he fired people before because they could not satisfy his demands. This is a major mistake done by the manager. Sheila was being picked up and brought in by the manager from another state in India. This was good enough to instil a sense of insecurity in Shakshi who feared losing her chair to Sheila. Such warnings set off the panic button in the minds of both. Instead of encouraging integration among the team members, both the seniors were made professional rivals of each other on the very first day by the manager. And then he expected co-ordinated work from both the team on the same project and on the same topics.
- Uneven distribution of human resources by the manager:- The existing team was instantly divided into two parts – one comprising all the good content writers and designers to be led by Shakshi. Another comprising only Sheila, a designer-cum-animator who could not deliver good works and a content writer working from a remote location. She was allowed to use some of the other team members occasionally and according to the discretion of Shakshi. With most of the people, being locals and willing to work for Shakshi, Sheila was left with nothing. She tried her best only to get results that are not up to the mark.
- The reluctance in sharing information:- Being new to the company Sheila required certain information to help her understand the project and take better strategic decisions. She expected this transparency from her manager’s end as well as from her colleagues’. But once again she was disappointed. When even after continuous verbal pleading, the situation did not improve she had to send a written request for the same to get the work done. Blames were always being put on the R&D team for not providing information on time. But the truth was that the information was purposefully shared with the old team members and not with the new team led by Sheila. Moreover, her colleague Shakshi hardly ever shared any strategy with her. Obviously, a professional rival of Shakshi by the manager.
- Rejection of ideas in swift diplomatic manners:- From the very first day her manager set a goal for Sheila – visibility for the brand she was working with. Having knowledge in campaign ideation for several offline and online projects she quickly came up with a few for her project. They were not welcomed much by Shakshi. They were kept aside for future use. Sheila was disappointed but did not lose hope. After two months she found out those ideas were used by Shakshi for her own benefits with the consent of the manager. The competition had already begun and the manager was enjoying it.
- Confusion regarding which strategy to follow and whose to follow:- To a marketing team, strategy making is one of the most important tasks to do. Shakshi was not interested in discussing with Sheila regarding what to do and what not to do. She made her own decisions after discussing it with the manager. Nothing was transparent there. No common agenda was set, no discussions and decisions were made together. Sheila had to constantly poke Shakshi or the manager for the revelation of each other’s task assignments. Otherwise, a peculiar silence was maintained.
Well, now the question is why did Sheila’s manager use a bad policy in the office?
When Sheila informed me about this situation I carefully analyzed the points observed by her and found out that the root cause of such a situation lied in the incompetence of the manager and not the employees.
The manager had no practical experience in digital marketing!
The manager, though had 15 years of experience in sales and marketing also did not have any practical experience in handling grass root level workers in any company as he had always worked in higher managerial positions before. As some of you know that to handle a team of digital marketers one has to understand two things very well – marketing concepts and technical know-how. Otherwise you won’t be able to guide anyone of your team members in case an emergency situation arises.
My friend made some peculiar observations that might help you understand how demoralizing the attitude of the manager was:-
- Non-confirmation of ideas over mail leading to the confusion that whether they were accepted or not
- Rejection of the ideas after the completion of the task by team members
- Unable to visualize what a creative would look like but side by side negating an expert’s opinion
- Unable to identify the real potentialities in each of the subordinates under him. He could not make a decision regarding which task to be assigned and to whom. For example, the task of social media marketing was assigned by him to a quality assessment manager who had no experience in digital marketing and then Sheila was asked to train him in the same
- Changing his decisions frequently regarding which strategy to follow, leading to confusion among strategists
- Asking Sheila to share new ideas but secretly passing it on to the others without acknowledging her contributions
- Unable to explain matters clearly and talked in a roundabout way using a lingo, it was difficult to understand
- Always eager to share his own thoughts and strategies and refused to listen properly to someone who is trying to help solve problems
- Constantly negated others’ ideas which was really frustrating for any newcomer
- Had wrong notions about employees and discussed, gossiped and criticized them with his peers to instigate a sense of division in the minds of each other
To hide his incompetency and insecurity in front of the higher authority, the manager used the tactic of ‘divide and rule’ to conquer and suppress his subordinates so that those who are better than him could never topple his position. He tried various experiments to find out what was wrong and what was working for him and the project. He was learning tits- bits of digital marketing this way but was unable to devise a compact strategy for the project. This often led to disastrous results. While Sheila tried to mend all those faults as quickly as possible based on her little experiences, the manager took a substantial amount of time to understand what was exactly bringing in the wrong results. Such results infuriated the clients and the higher authority, leading to arguments with the manager. And the angry, confused manager threatened his subordinates, instead of encouraging them to do their best.
Even if I consider this as a testing situation for Sheila, a way to judge her potentialities and mental strength to cope with precarious situations, then I have to say such actions were not good enough to create positive vibes in the minds of any of his subordinates to produce good results. All they felt was either insecurity or a sense of superiority over others leading to unnecessarily amplification of an unhealthy competitive atmosphere in the office.
Sheila refused to work in such a manner. After playing such silly games like divide and rule for five months with her, Sheila was told to leave by the HR on the ground that she had wrongly complained against her manager. The HR failed to identify the gravity of the situation or the root cause of her being complaintive. And after five more months the whole team was dissolved along with the manager by the higher authority on the ground that such a team was of no good to them and was not bringing in enough results.
A good manager should have the potential to identify the right persons to do the right jobs for him and not just go on doing experiments that disturb the focus of an enthusiastic employee. In my opinion, one should never work for such a confused manager who implements divide and rule policies just because he wants to keep his chair in the office.
According to me responsible managers should please stop behaving like a secret agent/playing childish games and grow up and be the fair and trust-worthy leader that his/her team needs him/her to be.
Featured Image Credits: Wikimedia