Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely


I’m attending the Academic Leadership Academy at Penn State and it’s been great! One of the very best presenters has been Dr. Mary Lou Higgerson, Vice President of Academic Affairs Emeritus, Baldwin Wallace University. She’s been coaching us on managing conflict and especially difficult personalities. She’s funny and firm and effective.

She has created these wonderful and nuanced case studies, which we read and react to in our groups and then we role play. This woman can wiggle out of any confrontation, derail any review, or confound any criticism. She caught us off guard with her wit and insight – right after she baffled us with her obstinance.

Here are some key points from her presentation:

Conflict is inevitable.

Conflict can be managed.

Conflict can be constructive.

Conflict resolution is not always the goal.

Our leadership objective: maximize constructive conflict and minimize destructive conflict.

Her words of wisdom – Difficult situations are rarely managed in one meeting and know when to seek the counsel of others.

This morning’s session focussed on especially difficult people, you may have one of these on your team. Here are five difficult personalities and their leadership communication strategies:

Passive and Indifferent (or passive and aggressive)

  • Assess the motivation for indifference
  • Make expectations clear
  • Be transparent
  • Value participation (solicit feedback)

Confrontation Junkies

  • Resist taking the bait
  • Defuse sensitive issues
  • Build a firewall (find alliances)
  • Structure the process

Personal Agenda Addicts

  • Create a shared vision
  • Establish and sustain processes that support the shared vision
  • Discern misguided motives
  • Consider the immediate and long-range context

Pot Stirrers

  • Practice one-to-many communication
  • Practice open communication
  • Make the context clear
  • Anticipate pot-stirring activity

Prima Donnas / Drama Princes

  • Stay on the issue
  • Time your intervention well
  • Play to the audience
  • Assess underlying motives and statements of fact

My post Mary Lou mantra – Stick to the facts, be consistent, rely on policy, don’t make it personal, and all will be well! And don’t forget to breath . . .


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