Drawing The Line
In the rough world of British politics, Margaret Thatcher was routinely exposed to open sexism. The Labor prime minister once taunted her in Parliament by saying, "Now, now little lady. You don't want to believe all those things you read in the newspapers...Dearie me, not at all." The nicknames that were given her included Attila the Hen, Rambona, Rhoda the Rhino, The Great She-Elephant, and Virago Intacta.
Thatcher developed a habit of handling her opponents by doing more research and devastating them in debate. Unfortunately, she did the same with her own team. As political writer John Ranelagh noted, she "did not have the male attitude to conflict; there is a sticking point beyond which men will not normally go, largely because they realize that to go further means fighting to the death." Thatcher went further and some of her male colleagues, rather than openly challenging her on the spot, conspired and eventually challenged her.
Men and women in leadership positions need to know where to draw the line. There has to be a sense of which battles should be fought and which ones overlooked. The person who responds to every challenge, wrestles with every possible affront, and seeks to correct every potential mistake is not only using time poorly, but is probably creating enemies who could have been allies or neutrals.
I knew a man who fell into the mode of "crossing the street to get into a fight." In the name of "not pussyfooting around" and "telling it like it is." He created a large collection of unnecessary enemies. He was so eager to prove that he was tough he forgot to show he was wise. The pattern continued in job after job at employer after employer and it seriously limited what could have been a great career.
Perhaps, as with Margaret Thatcher, at one point and time that strategy was appropriate and the opponents needed to be flattened. But strategies and styles should be adjusted to fit the circumstances and the leader - or the follower - who fails to do so is making a huge mistake.