Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prof. Robert Bordone contributes to the conversation in this month’s Global Brief: “Winning in the New Century Means . . . “

Faculty & Staff - Robert Bordone Preferred Headshot

The era in which deploying sheer military might or flexing one’s vast economic muscle might be sufficient to win (or, more modestly, end or manage) a conflict has passed. Stunning technological advances in the last decade (think: social networking sites, smart phones, and the relentless 24/7 news cycle), combined with the break-neck pace of economic, cultural and ideological globalization during the same period, make using military force or economic sanctions to succeed on the world stage a costly strategy.

Because nation-states with powerful armies and mighty economies rely so heavily on global markets and global security for their continued success, deploying armies or sanctions to win a point necessarily imposes pain on the very entities that would use these methods. At the same time, simply staying out of the way of others through practiced isolation is an equally maladaptive way to thrive on a world stage that is so interconnected and interdependent. These old tools, then, cannot be the main ingredients for victory in international affairs in our time.

And yet, despite the reduced efficacy of economic and military force for resolving conflict, if there is one thing of which we can be certain, it is that conflict over resources, land, money, ideas, values, faiths, and much more will persist throughout the 21st century.

Those who are likely to thrive in this new international arena where militaries and money are of limited value are those who will be most able to harness the power of persuasion to advance their ends.

By persuasion, I mean neither forcing nor cajoling. Instead, persuasion is the ability to convince another to pursue (or refrain from pursuing) a particular course of action because it meets both one’s own and the other side’s interests. The component skills of successful persuasion include: perspective-taking, listening, empathy, framing, creativity, collaboration and, most of all, patience.

Perspective-taking is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of another party and to view a situation from that party’s point of view. In moments of crisis, when individuals are often most prone to be emotionally agitated, threatened and defensive, perspective-taking becomes one of the most challenging, evolved and critically important of leadership skills.

Being truly persuasive in the 21st century will necessarily mean cultivating the ability to acknowledge competing stories, conflicting realities and partisan perceptions as valid even when they do not comport with one’s own version of reality. Related to perspective-taking, then, are skills of listening and deep empathy. Mastering the capacity to appreciate ‘the other,’ and to see the world from his or her perspective improves one’s ability to frame choices and decisions for others that are genuinely attractive to them – ones that are worthy of their consideration, rather than their refutation.

Effective framing – however powerful – is often insufficient when it comes to some of the most intractable problems in the international arena: to name a few, those related to global climate change, nuclear proliferation and identity-based disputes. The ability to persuade, therefore, also assumes the capacity to demonstrate creativity in crafting solutions that are out-of-the-box and, at times, even unconventional.

To be truly persuasive, such creativity must combine with genuine collaboration. Generating new ideas to old problems matters, but doing so with others, instead of simply on behalf of them, matters more. By working in concert with others – especially others who are different from oneself – winning leaders of the 21st century will be more likely to craft shared stories; ones that incorporate conflicting historical narratives at the same time that they simultaneously lever elements of a mutual vision for the future. Such shared visions almost always locate themselves at the level of common needs related to basic human security and human freedom.

A final and often forgotten attribute of persuasion is enduring patience. Those insistent on easy fixes may achieve short-term gains, but are unlikely to succeed on the international stage in the long haul. Why? Because true persuasion requires the establishment of mutual trust. And so, at bottom, winners in the international arena will be those individuals endowed with the unique capacity – and the deep commitment – to build communities of trust; not only with respect to their own interactions, but also within the institutions, organizations, companies, and NGOs on whose behalf they toil.”

This response to the “What Does Winning in the New Century Mean?” was originally published in Global Brief in October 2010.