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John Baldoni
Leadership author

John Baldoni

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review online. His most recent book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.

Don't sabotage your own strategy

Question: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin continues to demand an end to collective bargaining rights for state employees even after winning their agreement on the benefit reductions he sought. These are the same state employees he must rely on to operate state government and implement his policies. How should he strike the balance between the urgent need to restore the state's fiscal health and his longer-term challenge of leading a large governmental enterprise?

If you are going to use a "burning platform" as an impetus for change, then it does not make sense to extinguish the fire before you get what you want.

Yet that seems to be precisely what Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is doing. The burning platform is the state deficit, but his approach to making those budget cuts is mobilizing the forces against him.

Walker was elected on a platform that included an elimination of collective bargaining for state employees, so his efforts to do this should come as no surprise. What is a surprise is Walker's hard-line stance that seems more intent on breaking the union than gaining support for his budget cuts. This is especially true since the unions have already agreed to the cuts.

Walker did not help himself when he admitted in a phone call with a supposed donor that he had considered using troublemakers to stir up the peaceful protests around the state capitol building. Although the phone call was a prank pulled by a liberal blogger, Walker's comment revealed himself to be less than statesmanlike.

To be fair, the turmoil in Wisconsin has been exacerbated by the "run and hide" tactic of the Democratic state senators who have been absent in Illinois to deny the state senate the necessary quorum to vote on legislation.

While unions hold a shrinking slice of the American workforce, recent polls have shown that most Americans regard collective bargaining as a legitimate right. Furthermore the protests in Wisconsin have mobilized public unions in other states to step up their activities to protect collective bargaining rights.

Newly elected Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan is also facing a budget deficit. However, Snyder is adopting a cooperative approach with public unions, stating that he respected the collective bargaining rights and would work with the unions to trim the budget.

Budget cuts in Wisconsin will likely be made sooner than later ,since Walker has promised to begin a round of layoffs even if his legislation is not passed. Such a move will not only reduce jobs, it will erode morale of employees still on the job.

If Wisconsin, like others states, is to do more with less, it must have a cooperative workforce. Governor Walker's strategy is certainly not doing anything to win the hearts and minds of people who serve the public. And that will not be good for the citizens who pay their salaries as well as the salaries of the governor and the legislators.

By John Baldoni

 |  February 28, 2011; 6:39 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis , Government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Walker must win hands down | Next: Wisconsin has two fiscal problems


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I have lived in Wisconsin for more than 35 years and follow our political process closely. Others have already commented on this, but i must reiterate that Walker did NOT run on a platform that included ending collective bargaining rights for public employees.
It was certain that he would ask for salary and/or benefit concessions but obliterating public employee unions was not mentioned during the campaign. If he had made this goal apparent the discussion (and probably protests) of the last two weeks would have been part of the election season. And, in my opinion, the outcome of the election would have changed.

Posted by: nancydiane | March 2, 2011 1:10 PM
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Should of NEVER let 'public'workers unionize.This isn't about fairness,it's about these over paid and over benefited Union workers that don't want the taxpayers golden eggs to stop rolling to them.Problem is, these incredibly greedy Unions(along with the cradle to the grave Democrats} are killing the goose that lays them. And they have a NERVE to say Tea party protest are bad and ugly."for the times they ARE a changing"

Posted by: votingrevolution1 | March 1, 2011 1:06 PM
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Mr. Baldoni:
Thank you for an attempt at even-handed journalism. However, you fail. By telling your readers Walker campaigned on eliminating collective bargaining rights, you are deliberately misleading your readers. Walker couldn't have been elected on that platform. Threatening to cause harm to protesters is a threat for which Walker should be arrested. I expect much more from anything with "Harvard" attached to it.

Posted by: cougartonyusa | March 1, 2011 11:15 AM
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At no time during the campaign was there any reference made to limiting?breaking the unions. Please refer to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal's website (www.jsonline.com) and go to the "Truth-O-Meter" link for an analysis.

Posted by: haighjames | March 1, 2011 10:37 AM
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"Walker's comment revealed himself to be less than statesmanlike."
Less than statesmanlike? Walker considered sending provocateurs into the midst of protestors to cause trouble. The Governor was willing to possibly start a riot in the state capital – risking life and property - to get his way.
That goes far beyond partisan politics. He's unfit for office and should be removed.

Posted by: KingMax | February 28, 2011 7:20 PM
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