One of the popular tactics that is often employed in military and political situations is “divide and rule” strategies.    This is a process that has been employed by the Romans, 20th century colonial powers, and certain political leaders in more recent history.  The power of this strategy is derived from creating distrust between various factions of the community so as to prevent alliances that result in resistance against those in power.

 

The inherent characteristic of tactics within this strategy is to create a feeling of instability that requires direct intervention of the person or group that is in power.  This process ensures that the party that employes this tactic will gain a greater grip on power. What has been extremely interesting to me is that this strategy is even employed today by business executives and leaders.  I’ve observed several situations where certain business leaders pit people against each other or praise some at the expense of others.  In one instance I was told by an executive that “it is not good to always praise your people.  Sometime you have to try and get them to be off balance so that they don’t feel too secure.  By showing that you are not pleased with their performance, even if you are, will give them a sense that they have to work harder.”  It seems that the whole process is close to a Machiavellian approach to leadership where manipulation rather than positive reinforcement is used to get things accomplished.

The challenge however in trying to justify or criticize this approach comes from a difficulty in assessing whether the ultimate result leads to success or failure in the organization.  Does divide and rule make sense in some instances but not others?  Perhaps the answer to such a question is closely tied to the maturity level of the organization and the ability of its people to operate effectively.

My own experience in leading teams and working within organizations lead me to believe that this tactic is hurtful in the long term as it impacts relationships, productivity, and independent thinking.  In an age where innovation and entrepreneurial thinking seem to be encouraged, divide and rule strategies are a sure fire way of guaranteeing the opposite.  If there are individuals who have worked with executives who used these tactics and have seen a record of success I welcome their input.