Successful Leaders are not Conflict Averse

Through my observations of successful leaders, I recognize Leadercnflctthat they have many attributes. In addition to vision, ability to articulate and communicate vision successfully, motivate followers, high integrity plus other qualities, I find that successful leaders are not conflict adverse.

Successful leaders are problem solvers, either directly or through others, and are action oriented. They do not shy away from conflict that stands in the way of accomplishing their vision, goals and objectives.

A conflict averse person is someone who is non-confrontational, avoids conflict or confronting an issue at hand, deflects a discussion until later, or simply not bring up the subject of contention. In social situations it might be preferable to avoid conflict or contention, but in business, unresolved conflict can erode employee morale, lead to dysfunctional operations, lower productivity, increase in operating cost, and reduction in product or service quality.

In business, conflict might be a contentious dispute between two employees, improper or inconsistent execution of company policies, poor performance of individuals or groups, indecision regarding company direction, inconsistent management practices and policies, conflicting management styles of senior leaders, and so on. A contentious issue that persists unresolved will have a degrading effect on the organization if not resolved in a timely manner.

Employee Conflict
Many managers will not lead in an employee conflict situation and try to resolve the conflict. They may choose to let time “heal” the issue or for the “harmed” party to suck it up and go on. This type of response is a significant problem for the person harmed and raises significant questions in the minds of co-workers as to what the office policy is in this circumstance.

During an employee conflict, co-workers are likely to withdraw from being fully committed to the goals of the group, which may include interaction with the harming person, knowing that if they experience the same treatment they will not receive any backup from the manager. They can conclude that the harming person has influence over the manager if no action is taken to resolve the conflict and or behavior.

Poor Performance
This is an insidious problem where an individual or group/department is not performing satisfactorily which compromises the work effort of those around them. There are always excuses to explain or justify poor performance but the manager, by not addressing the poor performance, allows it to become an accepted standard.

Poor performance must be addressed as soon as it noticed. Short comings in training, job definition or understanding of expectations must be corrected so that the individual can get back on track with acceptable performance, consistent with his peer workers.

High performing groups work toward specific objectives and goals. Indecision in setting goals and objectives can reduce if not, paralyze the effectiveness of the group. This is particularly true in situations where timely decisions are necessary. Deliberation beyond a reasonable time to gather facts and make a knowledge-based decision will be seen by others in the group as indecision, which erodes confidence.

While it is not good to make a final decision when all of the facts are not available, then an interim decision is necessary to keep the group focused and valuable resources applied. It is necessary to keep people informed as to progress and then announce the final decision when available.

Inconsistent Policies and Practices
Employees respond to being treated consistently and in a fair way. If however, employees experience situations where they are treated differently or unfairly, particularly one employee over another, can result in discouragement and frustration.

An effective leader will initiate action to gather feedback from employees frequently through casual conversations, suggestion boxes, or formal surveys so that policies and practices can be evaluated and adjustments made in a timely manner.

Conflicting Management Styles
A management team that does not have complimentary management styles will not operate effectively. Examples of management styles that are a source of conflict in a management team might include the following:

  • Does not take the needs of other departments seriously.
  • Uses interpersonal intimidation techniques when working with others.
  • Casual approach to priorities.
  • Relies on political maneuvers to accomplish goals.
  • Not a team player.

The Successful Leader
Many of the examples above I have witnessed firsthand either as a peer, consultant, or in a few cases, as the senior manager. The conflict was best addressed if action was taken earlier rather than later. Consequently, the impact on the business was minimized and in so doing built the confidence in the work force that there was an adult in charge.

A successful leader will insert them into a conflict situation early to keep it from ballooning into a major issue. Getting into conflict resolution early reduces the number of “absolute” obstacles to resolving the issue successfully. This is particularly true resolving issues with employees, managers and more significantly between the customers and the company.,

Leaders who were most successful had effective methods of staying in touch with what was going on whether it was through formal channels (i.e. chain of command) or informally by just walking around. Another skill that was effective was dealing with the conflict without it becoming personal between the parties involved.

Another important factor in building an effective management team was balancing accountability with responsibility in conjunction with regular reporting of progress and performance. This can be an effective method to normalize the field and measure team performance objectively, rather than subjectively. Setting objectives and measurement criteria is key to having each team member focus on their role in contributing to the team’s success.

Aspiring to be a successful leader is not for the faint of heart. Using a football analogy “You can’t win the game sitting on the sidelines” as some managers and “quasi” leaders are prone to do.

Dealing with conflict is not a perfect science although there are practices that should improve outcomes, but you will not have a perfect record, and you learn by engaging and working through each issue, hopefully one at a time.

Dealing with conflict is a skill that can be learned. Seek out a mentor who can give you additional perspective and guidance on how to deal with various issues that may confront you. As you are mentored, you will need to realize that you need to mentor those below you in the same way so that conflict is resolved at each level in our organization.

Dealing with conflict may not be what you signed up for, but if you are going to lead your organization to success, you have to be prepared to deal with it. Do not let it pass because you think you are too busy or it’s a difficult time in the growth of the business to take that on now. The longer you wait, the greater the issue is to resolve and potentially the greatest impact on the business.

Get off the sidelines and get into the game, a successful leader is not conflict averse!


Leave a Reply