Dealing with Tricky Stakeholders

Most people in the Learning and Development world will be familiar with a stakeholder management map:


This delightful formula helps to categorise the people who have some impact on an intervention you have been tasked to deliver.

I was reminded of it today. I think it’s helpful but on reflection, exemplifies the power-play I see in some organisations and more especially, managing the occasional conceited stakeholder.

Status can strut like a vainglorious peacock, deaf to it’s surroundings because of the dreadful noise it makes (have you ever heard a peacock? Awful) and determined to fulfil it’s self serving agenda. These peacocks (I mean some senior managers) live in a category B state (according to the stakeholder map, above).

Prisons, Peacocks and Pigeons

I looked up Cat B prisons and they are defined as:

‘Those (prisoners) who do not require maximum security, but for whom escape would still pose a large risk to members of the community’.

Pretty spot on for a few people I’ve met. They can be lost in their own paranoid ego. Interacting with them can be a ‘large risk’ as they don’t listen, have a skewed view of the community you serve and if their views were to ‘escape’ it could mean disaster!

And I use the peacock analogy purposefully. They look amazing but 60% of their body is feathers (a lot of fluff), they have very sharp claws (they can be nasty) and are omnivores (so they’ll eat you if they get the chance!)

I’d rather be a principled pigeon than a puffed up peacock anyday!


In Macleod’s report on Engagement (Engaging for Success) he spoke about the four enablers, the last one being ‘integrity’ or a more encompassing word I like to use is character.

Great leaders have character. Most leaders are great people with integrity but are also inspiring, engaging and energising but how do you work out the tricky ones? This is my litmus test.


If I go out for dinner with a prospect and they’re awful to waiters, I will not work for them.

If they treat their reports with contempt. I will not work for them.

If they talk a good talk but their actions are contrary, then I won’t work for them.

So although the stakeholder map is great, look out for two things:

1. Purpose

2. Principles

Is their purpose purely self serving? Are their principles honourable? These are diagnosed not by what they say but what they do.

Peacocks look fabulous but remember, it was pigeons who helped us win the war. The peacocks did nothing!

About the author – Matthew Davies:

Matthew is an experienced, genuine and energetic leader, working at a strategic level as well as a hands on approach in Performance and Capability, Learning and Development and Employee Engagement. An excellent communicator with the ability to influence throughout an organisation regardless of level or role.

He is a Fellow of the Learning and Performance Institute and studied Leadership and Management on Harvard Business School’s Manage Mentor programme. I have also completed the Level 5 Certificate in L&D with the CIPD and am an Accredited MBTI Practitioner.  Matthew is the founder of Power The Change


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