The Right Fight: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 26th, 2011 by bobmorris

The Right Fight: How Great Leaders Use Healthy Conflict to Drive Performance, Innovation, and Value
Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer
HarperBusiness (2010)

As I read the Introduction to this book, I was reminded of two observations by Peter Drucker and one by Michael Porter. First Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all” and “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.” Now Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. ” Especially given the current and imminent global economy, it is imperative for business leaders to keep these observations in mind when deciding what to do…and what not to do. This is what Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer seem to have in mind when asserting that “if you want to succeed in an age of ever-increasing complexity, you have to establish clear vision, set strategy, and build alignment. Then you need to systematically orchestrate right fights – and fight them right.”

They recommend six “Right Fight Principles” to guide and inform decisions made and devote a separate chapter to each – explaining HOW to apply the principles by citing real-world examples — in Parts Two and Three, once they have established (in Part One) a context, a frame-of-reference, for them by explaining how and why leaders “must introduce and manage right fights to achieve their strategic objectives. More specifically, to create breakthrough performance, meaningful innovation, and lasting values” and to “use tension for maximum benefits” while recognizing (“decoding”) and then avoiding “all kinds of wrong fights.” Then in Part Four, they provide tests for identifying and leading right fights as well as an “eye-opening” assessment tool for teams, “The Reverse Fishbowl.”

It may seem simplistic to affirm the importance of “fighting” what should be fought and “fighting” it right but, in fact, there are several important issues to consider once a decision has been made to engage in “battle.” For example, terms of engagement such as when and where, allocation of resources, and contingency planning (with or without use of scenaria). Even when in full compliance with the “Right Fight Principles” that Joni and Beyer advocate, preparations for any significant engagement must be flexible, taking into full account whatever adjustments may need to be made. While serving as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), General Dwight Eisenhower is reported to have observed, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

Credit Joni and Beyer with providing a wealth of evidence-driven insights and sound counsel that can be of substantial value to decision-makers in organizations that now struggle to increase and improve performance, innovation, and value. It would be a fool’s errand to attempt to apply all of their suggestions and recommendations. Rather, each reader must read and then re-read this book with great care, then select whatever material is most appropriate to her needs and interests, and, to achieving the strategic objectives of her or his organization. That said, I do presume to suggest that the six “Right Fight Principles” are eminently suitable for guiding and informing efforts to overcome the inevitable challenges, and resolve the inevitable complications during the process of planning and then implementing the initiatives to achieve those objectives.

Although I have not as yet found anything specific in Joseph Schumpeter’s books and articles that says so, I assume he realized that creative tension is a prerequisite to creative destruction. The right fights that must be fought (internally as well as externally) cannot be fought right without clarity, courage, and candor within a culture of transparency. Those who wage them must begin with a vision of  ultimate objectives, of course, but also a moral imperative in combination with a sense of urgency. Only then can the right fights be fought right…and won.

 


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