Top 10 Workplace Showdowns
They call it the will to power. The concept, studied at length by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, describes man's tendency to strive for positions of authority. The dynamic, the argument goes, is the same whether you are in a corporate boardroom, congressional chamber or even your everyday office where the stakes couldn't be more mundane. Because what matters most in all locales is who wants it more, and what each person is willing to do to make it to the top.
The experience of Barack Obama and John Boehner, two men no doubt prone to ambition, during the debt limit talks is actually more the exception than the rule. According to all reports, each had little interest in causing the other's political destruction. In fact, as elected officials, their true opponents were their more radical constituents who very much staked a claim to victory at all costs. Indeed, the fact that a normally procedural matter like the raising of the debt ceiling became the focal point of the debate is as good a case study as any about how a siege mentality can reign supreme.
As they sought to cobble together a deal that was popular among barely no one, but acceptable to just enough, Boehner and Obama faced the question that all workplace combatants must confront -- how much stress will I cause on the institution of which I am a part in the name of personal victory? Is this fight bigger than me, or am I bigger than it? In appeasing their constituents, Obama and Boehner both aimed to keep government running and avoid default. But their waltz with power and feuding is not new territory for anyone who has ever held a job.
Below are 10 of the more famous feuds in the workplace, in which the participants fought over matters like the host's chair of "The Tonight Show," the authorship of America's preferred model of electrical currents, and the founding of a social network called Facebook.
1. Barack Obama vs. John Boehner
Both men like to play golf. In truth, the 2011 showdown between President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner pitted two men naturally inclined towards compromise. But their rendezvous took place at a time of hyper-partisan division, and their struggle to strike a deal to raise the federal debt limit, a previously routine measure, proved the powerlessness of the post-modern politician in the face of hardened constituencies. The months of the behind-the-scenes budget negotiations between Boehner and Obama mattered little as a caucus of Tea Party Republicans refused to join any Republican coalition that wouldn't seek to proactively cause a default in the name of making a symbolic point about federal spending. And so the two men were forced to be at loggerheads over who could be seen as most effectively tackling the country's spending.
The End Result: At the last hour, Boehner and Obama were able to find enough legislative support to strike a deal that would cut spending $2.4 trillion over the next decade. The middle ground that was reached, which left out the restoration of pre-Bush-era tax rates for the nation's wealthiest citizens, was probably only made possible by the shared incentive to avoid a politician-caused default.
2. Bill Clinton vs. Newt Gingrich
They may have both been Southern, but there was nothing gentlemanly about it. The seeds of the budget showdown of 1995-96 between then-President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich were planted during the previous year's midterm elections. Republicans swept to power in Congress, and an emboldened caucus unaccustomed to majority rule sought to capitalize on a personal enmity for Clinton, who had recently failed to overhaul the nation's health care system. But Clinton, a former Rhodes Scholar, outmaneuvered Gingrich at the negotiating table, and the president's refusal to sign an austere GOP proposal allowed him to present himself as the centrist defender of the country's social services network. Gingrich's image was surely sullied by reports, at the height of the budget battle, that he complained that the President paid him no attention during an Air Force One flight.
The End Result: In total, the government ceased non-essential work for 21 days, and once it ended, Clinton emerged as the champion in the public's eye. But not before the downtime enabled him to take up a relationship with a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
3. Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla
It was known as the "war of the currents." When the widespread distribution of electricity became a realistic goal in the late 1880s and early 1890s in America, the argument soon centered over how best to transmit the currents. Backed by entrepreneur and engineer George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla (portrayed at right by David Bowie), a Serbian-born immigrant, pioneered the "alternating current" (AC) system that enabled sending electric currents over long distances. Not to be undone, famed inventor Thomas Edison argued that the model was risky, and could potentially electrocute humans exposed to the system. To try and prove his point, the "Wizard of Menlo Park," conducted a public electrocution of an elephant named "Topsy."
The End Result: The spectacle did little to help Edison's alternative, "direct current" (DC) system win out. When the results were in, it was Tesla's AC that was chosen as the standard system in America.
4. Mark Zuckerberg vs. Eduardo Saverin
Perhaps they knew most of all just how big the stakes were. Harvard undergrads Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin came of age amid Web 1.0, but their hunch that Web 2.0 would take the form of a socialized Internet provided the philosophical framework for the website originally called, "the facebook." Zuckerberg, the programming prodigy, had already been in talks with upperclassmen to form a different website for social networking before he turned to his close friend Saverin for the startup capital to start his own in early 2004. Before they knew it, Thefacebook.com was launched, and began spreading like wildfire across college campuses. The two friends fought over how best to monetize the site and, eventually, the Brazilian-born Saverin left the Facebook inner circle as new members were brought on board, including Napster-founder Sean Parker.
The End Result: Most details of the infighting are still cause for little more than speculation, as Facebook has yet to go public, and Saverin agreed to a non-disclosure settlement to end his lawsuit over the website's founding and ownership.
5. Gordon Brown vs. Tony Blair
It was supposedly called the Granita Pact. As an era of Conservative rule in the United Kingdom was drawing to a close, young Labour members of Parliament Tony Blair and Gordon Brown surveyed the national landscape and each envisioned himself as the next British prime minister. Sensing that they'd fare better by avoiding an intraparty squabble, the two Scots and former office-mates in the House of Commons reportedly agreed to a power-sharing deal at a London restaurant called Granita in 1994. Though the exact details and terms of the understanding are still contested, all accounts agree that Brown (pictured at left) did not expect to wait a whole decade before Blair stepped aside. But that's exactly what happened. As the more reserved of the two, Brown spent the years from 1997-2007 as the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, making him the second most powerful man in Britain, behind Blair.
The End Result: Relations were said to have became so frayed between the two that they needed an intermediary to officiate, and the relationship was the subject of the 2003 television movie, "The Deal."
6. Leon Trotsky vs. Joseph Stalin
It's not every office spat that centers on how best to spread the revolution. When the health of the leader of the Soviet Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, began a dramatic decline in the early 1920s, chatter in the nascent Politburo in Moscow focused on who would succeed the Russian revolutionary. For his part, Lenin had hoped that the more theoretically-grounded Leon Trotsky, then charged with overseeing foreign affairs among other assignments, would follow him as the leader of the young Soviet Union. But fellow revolutionary Joseph Stalin, who was initially more involved in the execution of the message than its creation, had a different plan. Perhaps as a means of setting himself apart from Trotsky, Stalin began championing a "socialism-in-one-country model" that focused on Russia, and diverged from Trotsky's plan to spread the revolution worldwide.
The End Result: In Lenin's final days, Stalin increased his visits to the ailing leader, and by the time Lenin passed away, he had successfully evicted Trotsky from the inner circle. Stalin's tendency to target personal opponents to the point of their destruction found fullest expression with his campaign against Trotsky, who was assassinated in Mexico in 1940.
7. Conan O'Brien vs. Jay Leno
It's the most coveted job in show business -- the host of "The Tonight Show." Terming the NBC gig a "dynasty," Jay Leno said in 2004 that "you hold it and then you hand it off." When Leno agreed that year to serve for five more years as the host of "The Tonight Show," he publicly announced on his program that he had every intention of handing over the post to the quirkier comedian then serving as host of NBC's "Late Night," Conan O'Brien. After the succession plan took effect, Leno, a famous workaholic, stuck around on the NBC schedule, rolling out a new prime-time variety show. Soon, however, the executives at 30 Rock grew disgruntled as O'Brien failed to earn the ratings that Leno had enjoyed at the helm of "The Tonight Show." Just a year into the job, O'Brien said that he needed more time to establish himself, but the NBC executives had little patience. With Leno's consent, they sought to engineer a switch back to Leno as host. What ensued was a two-week spat played out in the public eye -- which ironically brought O'Brien the ratings he had sought all along.
The End Result: His sticking it to the network on air, with bits about fake charges to the corporate card, came to an end on Jan. 22, 2010, with his last show as the host of "The Tonight Show."
8. Kobe Bryant vs. Shaquille O'Neal
After the Showtime years of Magic and Kareem, the Los Angeles Lakers experienced "the feud." Lakers superstar Shaquille O'Neal was weary when his team acquired Kobe Bryant in 1996, then fresh out of high school. After expressing a distaste for the potential of "babysitting" Bryant, O'Neal saw his Lakers fail to return to the kind of glory they'd had in the 1980s, something Bryant was brought on board to help achieve. After legendary coach Phil Jackson was hired in 2000 to bring his zen approach to the locker room, the Lakers got their act together to win three championships in a row. But the clash of egos persisted. Public statements about overly selfish play and lack of camaraderie only furthered public interest in the Kobe vs. Shaq squabble. While it was O'Neal who was more often airing his grievances in the press, Bryant was the one who grew frustrated over Jackson's decision to base the team's offensive strategy on O'Neal, even if it proved a winning formula.
The End Result: The spat came to an end after O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004. Jackson, the famously reticent and composed coach, once called the whole dustup, "juvenile."
9. John Adams vs. Thomas Jefferson
For two Founding Fathers, it was all so childlike. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were there at the birth of the nation, and forged close bonds while serving as the young country's emissaries to Europe in the 1780s. After George Washington became the country's first president, he brought on Adams and Jefferson to serve in his cabinet, the former as vice president, the latter as secretary of state. It was then that their philosophical differences about the proper role of government in American life began to take off. Adams, the federalist, appreciated a powerful central government, while Jefferson opposed that in favor of constructing an agrarian society in America. Those differences received full attention during the political battles that ensued over who would succeed Washington as the country's president. Round 1 went to Adams in 1796, but four years later, Jefferson won the day. The campaigns saw the first personal attacks in American politics, and their relationship suffered as a result. They even stopped speaking.
The End Result: While a late-in-life reconciliation did take place, their shared physical deterioration united them one last time. Both men died on July 4, 1826 -- the 50th anniversary of the country's founding. Adams is said to have uttered as his final words, "Jefferson still lives."
10. Rupert Murdoch vs. the Bancrofts
It is the most hallowed brand in business journalism -- The Wall Street Journal. The Bancroft family's roots in the ownership ranks of the Journal went back to 1902, and when NewsCorp. CEO Rupert Murdoch made a takeover bid in 2007 in a bid to associate himself with the brand's global respect, the family initially rebuffed the offer. Eventually they gave in to a Murdoch offer that was worth a total of $5 billion, but they did so on the condition that an independent committee would be established to preserve the editorial independence of the Journal within Murdoch's empire. Many of the family members were said to be concerned by Murdoch's history of remaking media brands in his image. When the managerial transition did result in a change of editor atop the Journal, outgoing editor Marcus Brauchli said it was understandable new owners would want to install a new leader. But observers didn't miss out on the fact that Brauchli's successor, Robert Thomson, came from within News Corp., as he previously served as editor of The Times.
The End Result: While Murdoch has hoped to use the new WSJ as a vehicle to personally topple The New York Times, the ongoing phone hacking scandal threatens to sink the whole Murdoch ship. "If I had known what I know now, I would have pushed harder against [the offer]," Christopher Bancroft said amid the fallout from hacking, according to a report co-published by The Guardian and Pro Publica.