MANAGER SEE, MANAGER DO Research on chimps offers clues to human power plays excerpted from BUSINESS WEEK, 4/3/95, pp. 90-1 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ How did Newt Gingrich climb from lowly congressional backbencher to Speaker of the House in a mere five years? Part of the answer may lie in the work of Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal, who studies how power is won and lost within a large community of chimpanzees. Gingrich has been an avid follower of de Waal's work for years. He has even placed de Waal's CHIMPANZEE POLITICS: POWER AND SEX AMONG APES on his recommended reading list for freshmen Republicans, along with better known texts such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. What secrets of power has Gingrich gleaned from our simian cousins? In short, how to win power by forming tactical coalitions and mounting fierce psychological attacks on those blocking the way. CHIMPANZEE POLITICS chronicles a three-month power struggle in which Luit, an ambitious male chimp, waged a carefully crafted campaign to overthrow Yeroen, the autocratic established leader. To pull it off, Luit played the populist by grooming lower-ranking chimps. He also punished Yeroen's supporters and refused to greet Yeroen with the polite submissiveness usually accorded his rank. It's a strategy Gingrich aped in his assault on former Speaker Jim Wright. For more than a year, Gingrich attacked Wright's ethics while cultivating allies. His campaign gained momentum as the widely disliked Wright began to crumble under pressure. Wright resigned in 1989, and the once obscure Gingrich was established as a major power. "It made Gingrich a big man in Republican politics," says John M. Barry, whose The Ambition and the Power chronicled Gingrich's tactics and Wright's downfall. "Everyone loves a winner, and he [showed] that the way to beat these guys is to just tear them up, rip them up, not be a gentleman anymore." Gingrich declined comment. While Gingrich has found de Waal's work instructive in the political arena, the scientists observations may be even more applicable to corporate behavior. "Corporate life is a male hunting venture," notes de Waal. "They hunt for money." So what lessons from chimp behavior hold true in corporate life? The CEO shouldn't be too high-handed, for one thing. "Dominant males are always paranoid," de Waal says. But they can't allow themselves to be too aggressive or imperious, because then their lieutenants devote themselves to finding a chance to get rid of them. Loners are always vulnerable, because they have no one to support them in times of crisis. And for indications of who is holding and who is losing influence, watch whose jokes are laughed at and whose ideas get ignored at meetings. The chimp analogue? If low-ranking animals fail to heed the dominant male's displays of hooting and charging, it's a sign he's losing status. So maybe the law of the jungle isn't such a far cry from contract law after all. "Once you've seen chimps in action and thought about evolu- tionary psychology, the way you look at workplace life will forever change," notes Robert Wright . . . "Much more than people consciously realize, workplaces are full of subtle jockeying and constant gamesmanship. Any CEO who reads CHIMPANZEE POLITICS will never forget it."
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