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 / Spring 2010 / Issue 58(originally published by Booz & Company)


Jack’s Right Fight

When Jack hung up, he sat staring at the wall, lost in thought, until it was time for a meeting that Andre had requested.

Jack knew from his back channels that most members of the team were betting that Danita’s plan would win; he also knew that Andre was worried. It was time to astonish them both and get them to work out a whole new approach — not a compromise, but something that took into account the complexity of regions, markets, and segments. They needed to come together on the best of both, without the dreaded “half of each.”

As he waited for Andre to come to his office, he felt tired, yet deeply excited at the same time. He was thinking about big bets differently than he ever had before.

And he was smiling when Andre walked into his office, saying, “Thanks for seeing me.” Five minutes later, Jack was no longer smiling. Andre had delivered an earful. And Jack didn’t like what he had heard.

It began with a long, involved story about the design group. They had come up with beautiful packaging for the portable model, but the supply chain folks were pointing out that it was too expensive. They were suggesting an alternative plastic housing that wouldn’t support the colors in the gorgeous design. Andre wound up the story by looking at him expectantly. But Jack wasn’t going to intervene on his behalf. This was a wrong fight, and Jack knew it right away.

Andre was a brilliant creative force, but he was ornery — and here he was making another grab for power. He could be brilliant but wrong, and Jack was going to have to make that clear to him — again.

Andre then jumped into an attack on Danita’s proposal; he questioned her team’s ability to handle the retraining that would be necessary. Making this argument was dirty pool, and Jack could see it from a mile away, but he heard Andre out because he would need everyone to be a team player when Jack put forward his new approach that afternoon. Everyone was going to have to grow — especially Andre, thought Jack.

So Jack merely said that it would be time to worry about the training when the plan was set. As he left, he said to himself that it was time to change the shape of the fight.

The Fulcrum of the Fight

“What will move the top line and get us to 30 percent growth?” Jack looked at his team, including Danita and Andre. “I’ve really been struggling with your ideas on this. Both of your plans make big bets. You gave me what I asked for. But neither plan is going to work the way we want it to.”

Jack paused. “So I’m going to surprise you. This issue is more complex than we originally thought. Your approaches both have brilliant aspects, and we need both — not half of each. There is a way to get to 30 percent, but it’s going to involve the two of you working together, with your teams, to come up with a new plan that does both: reorganizes the geography and bets on the portable model. With a sensitivity to timing and local realities, and a new look at segmentation, I know it will work. We need to weave these plans together and not expect one global approach all at the same time. It has to work. It has the potential to save a lot of lives, and our company is counting on us. So I’m going to ask you both, once again, to come up with a plan: but this time a joint one.”

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  1. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right (Crown Business, 2004): How to look clearly at the issues facing you, rather than live in a cocoon of comfortable assumptions.
  2. Saj-nicole Joni, The Third Opinion: How Successful Leaders Use Outside Insight to Create Superior Results (Portfolio, 2004): To navigate the complexity of right fights, you need a strong inner circle and advisors who will tell you the unvarnished truth.
  3. Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer, The Right Fight: How Great Leaders Use Healthy Conflict to Drive Performance, Innovation, and Value (Harper Business, 2010): A guide to constructive conflict and its benefits.
  4. Zia Khan and Jon Katzenbach, “Are You Killing Enough Ideas?” s+b, Autumn 2009: Informal but candid battles that help companies focus on the right innovations.
  5. Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (Viking Penguin, 1999): Why you can’t fight right fights without the personal capability of having straightforward conversations.
  6. 12 Angry Men. Directed by Sidney Lumet. MGM, 1957: Classic film about a fight worth fighting.
  7. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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