When John came to me, he was quite distressed. For some time, he had felt that something was compromising his team. Undermining their progress. Capping their ability to innovate. He had one very clear concern – an age-old concern that many CEOs are dealing with today.
In John’s case, his concern went by the names Sarah and Mike.
Now, Sarah and Mike themselves were not the problem. John had an excellent team. Sarah diligently tracked task progress as project manager, and Mike took his role as product owner very seriously. And they were both pleasant people.
But John said whenever they discussed how to approach their projects, they would go at odds with each other. They would have intense debates over what to do. John was worried the negative energy was hurting morale.
Engagement, innovation, results – everything was suffering, and John felt Sarah and Mike’s conflicts could be part of the cause. And not without reason – certainly, their discussions made John himself uncomfortable.
The more John talked about these debates, though, the less they sounded problematic, and the more they sounded like two people who were passionate about their roles having honest, if heated, conversations. And the more John sounded like a leader who would avoid conflict at all costs.
On the surface, this can seem like a good thing. Conflict can lead to friction, which can leave team members feeling bristled and cold.
But as long as we are working with people (as we always will be), there will be a difference of opinion.
If a leader avoids conflict, they will discourage that difference of opinion, whether they know it or not. And where one feels silenced, they do not feel valued – but instead, discouraged.
In other words, they will keep to themselves – lowering engagement, innovation, and ultimately, results.
The more John and myself covered conflict in our coaching sessions, the more he began to see this, as well.
We covered the hallmarks of healthy and unhealthy conflict, and before too long he was not just comfortable with Sarah and Mike’s conversations, but he was handling conflict like a pro. His team was sharing ideas and innovating again – and John felt they had their momentum back.
How does your organization navigate conflict? Does your team know they are safe to share their thoughts?
I’ll leave you with three critical questions about your conflict navigation style…
- What are your meetings like? Think about the last few times you gathered with your team. Were they contributing and offering feedback, or was the room deathly still? Did you ask for opinions and get nothing, or did your team give you actionable insight? What can you do as a leader to make your team with a healthy exchange of input?
- How is the trust on your team? Trust is the foundation of every effective team. We can only do our own part if we trust that the rest of the team will do theirs. Do your team members trust each other? How does trust, or lack of it, show up on your team, and how can you bolster this trust enough to support healthy conflict?
- How are you impacting your workplace atmosphere? I have quoted John Maxwell many times in the past, and I probably will again in the future – but one of my favorites of his quotes is, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” It reminds me of how empowering the role of a leader is. Leaders have the influence to shift the feel of the environment with their actions. Leaders set the tone. Are you setting an example of engagement and proactivity?
In one of our last sessions, John said something profound to me:
“I used to think that my job as a CEO was to minimize conflict. Now I realize that my role is to cultivate the right kind of conflict – the kind that challenges us to think differently and push beyond our comfort zones.”
And now, my fellow leaders, I hope you will take every opportunity to do the same!
That’s all for now,
P.S. Looking to improve your own team’s relationship with conflict? Feel free to click here and reach out – I have some coaching spots open, and I would love to help you recapture your momentum.
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