Wow, John McCain. As expert advisors who show leaders how diverse strong interests can debate and generate the best solutions to complex challenges and drive value-creation, we’re impressed.

You called out the “win/lose victory-at-all-costs” defensive thinking trap and appealed to your colleagues to use diverse perspectives and creative tension and come up with something better. You knew that some zealots on one side would see you as a traitor and that some on the other side salivate at a victory, not a robust generative creative-tension dialogue. But you stood firm, appealed to principle, declared what we all could see – “standoffs and showdowns don’t get anything done.” You said, “We all have to come together and use debate to do something better, not score points at one another’s expense. Too many people are counting on us.”

Since we want to see sound business principles – that create wealth in industry – guide the political debate, let us point out the parallels between your leadership, John McCain, and business leadership. And, as you read these examples, ask whether you are ready to step up and use the McCain Principle to PowerUP something bigger and better in your enterprise.

One client called Courage because Quality was having a hard time fighting to get traction on a key enterprise-critical initiative. You’d think it would be easy for Quality, since the company was on FDA censure and had to dramatically upgrade compliance. But, even under FDA scrutiny, Managing Directors intent on “making their sales numbers” pressured quality to release product that was questionable and blamed quality for holding back product and creating shortages on store shelves. By the time we appeared on the scene, the debate was as polarized as “Red Seats” and “Blue Seats,” with quality demanding one priority and commercial leaders demanding something else.

With Courage, the VP Quality stepped up like John McCain and declared to her QA/QC team, “We all are here to support the business – and the patients and caregivers who use our products. It’s time to stop seeing Commercial as ‘the enemy’ and partner with them to get product where it’s needed when it’s needed, by being proactive advisors about what should be happening – not defenders and whistleblowers when it’s too late to make a difference.” She declared zero tolerance for defensive traps like win/lose Machiavellianism, silo myopia, and bias against creativity and insisted on a higher level of business literacy and proactive creative thinking. The result wasn’t just a victory for Quality, but value-creation for the entire franchise.

We’ve intervened with an infusion of Courage with these same dynamics played out at other flashpoints – HR versus operational managers, procurement and supply chain vs manufacturing, engineering vs marketing, customer advocacy vs sales, IT vs EPMO, medicinal vs analytical and computational chemistry, finance vs bizdev, loss control vs account management, clinical operations and statistics vs medical affairs. And with games that brought people together and elevated the dialogue, equipped leaders to replace defensive thinking with entrepreneurial thinking.

In almost every case, the McCain Principle created outcomes that no one imagined possible when they were locked into defensive thinking and were fighting for hegemony rather than using diversity and conflict to PowerUP brilliance and capitalize on creative tension.

We’ve also had our disappointments. In one case, VP Manufacturing and Plant Manager we were coaching was fired by his CEO – who declared that the VP’s behavior had violated the McCain Principal, crossed the line and there was no way to say, “I’m sorry” and repair the damage.

What crossed the line? In an executive meeting, when asked about one of the sister manufacturing plants, the VP declared, “I’m just going to stand aside and let their imperiled safety program collapse, so I can pick up the pieces as the new VP without owning any of the damage.” The VP saw what the other plant’s manager – a political rival 500 miles away – needed to do, to improve safety, but thought his status as VP could be elevated if he let accidents happen and had justification to fire the other Plant Manager, rather than elevate or support his rival’s success.

The CEO saw that declaration as an ethical breach that he could not tolerate, not a coaching issue. “How do you ever trust a VP who looks at something that affects our workers’ lives and our profitability and says, ‘I’m going to stand by and let it collapse,'” the CEO asked rhetorically. “I want a VP who sees a problem and steps in to fix it and who owns the problem and the fix, whether he created the problem or inherited it. Not someone who can fulfill his political ambitions no matter what it costs the company or how it endangers the workers whom we employ.”

If you see factions acting like rivals and want to lift your leadership to use the McCain Principle so you can make diversity and creative tension an asset rather than side-show, call us – whether you head a department in a corporation or are an executive in an entrepreneurial company that is becoming more complex and adding more functions with more diverse perspectives. Because, with Courage, you can use conflict and tension and can create something far better.


Dr Merom Klein and Dr Louise Yochee Klein are Principals at The Courage Institute and Courage Growth Partners. Their book PowerUP Brilliance, shows innovation leaders how to bring factions together to create wealth. To see if you’re ready to step up like John McCain, in a corporate job, public sector and healthcare system or an entrepreneurial venture, take their innovation leadership readiness assessment.