Divide and rule policies fail organizations in the Gulf

Omar Al-Ubaydli
Omar Al-Ubaydli
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When an organization in the Gulf is saddled with an incompetent leader, a frequent phenomenon is the use of divide and rule within the body. The chief pits high-ranking subordinates against one another to maintain control, even at the cost of damaging overall performance. The only sustainable solution is expunging these corporate despots.

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Divide and rule is a timeless political and military strategy that involves an aggressor dividing a formidable adversary into smaller independent components and then sowing discord between them. It allows the aggressor to easily maintain supremacy, so long as the smaller enemies remain mutually antagonistic and fail to form a competent coalition.

Though many powers have used this strategy throughout history, the British became particularly adept practitioners during their golden imperial age in the 19th century. African and Middle Eastern tribes, in particular, were manipulated this way, allowing downsized British detachments to maintain control over large swathes of territory.

Today, Western organizations such as businesses and NGOs deploy more humane and effective methods for managing their internal processes. It is partially due to the mainstreaming of modern political ideas, where ordinary people correctly view divide and rule as a cruel and regressive management technique.

Traders at the Bahrain Bourse  in Manama, Bahrain. (File photo: Reuters)
Traders at the Bahrain Bourse in Manama, Bahrain. (File photo: Reuters)

It is also the result of decades of scholarly research in business administration, which has given modern executives a much more sophisticated and progressive toolkit for managing organizations.

Modern bosses realize that giving employees a sense of autonomy and empowering them to make positive connections with colleagues results in far superior performance to the regressive mindset associated with divide and rule.

Unfortunately, when 21st-century Gulf organizational leaders have the opportunity to learn from their Western counterparts, they don’t always pick the proper lessons to absorb. Sometimes, they shun management visionaries like General Electric’s Jack Welch or Virgin’s Richard Branson. Instead, they prefer to emulate a British colonial officer who has mastered the dark arts of repression, subjugation, and deception.

It may seem strange for a modern executive to prefer primitive and obsolete management methods. Still, the reason is often the lethal combination of ego and incompetence. Suppose you are an ineffective leader, but your ego makes you want to retain power at all costs. In that case, you will correctly perceive your highly competent subordinates as a daunting foe.

After all, they want to collectively advance the organization’s interests, and you are, at best, a spanner in the works. Your only option is to upend their righteous coalition and make them focus their brainpower on one another rather than you.

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