As published in Mediate.com on 2 April 2021.
Executive conflict provides an opportunity for leaders to pause, reflect, and grow exponentially. If executives dare, they can use the challenge of conflict as a means to take their leadership from good to great, and even exceptional. We cannot expect our leaders to be perfect, but we expect that they will show empathy, resilience, and humility, take responsibility, and be prepared to adapt in the face of challenges. When they do, they re-write the organization’s story and pave the way for the company’s best chapter yet.
The 5 Benefits of Executive Conflict For Your Business
In the now more than 15 years I have been resolving workplace conflicts I have found that while many people fear executive conflict, leadership disputes can, if handle effectively, have huge benefits for organizations.
Workplace conflict offers an often much needed pause in the day-to-day. In good times, or even bad, it is easy to neglect some important aspects of organizational functioning including effective leadership. When things are going well some people feel there is less need to reflect, and so they just get on with their core business.
When times are tough, people may be more focused on emergencies, putting out fires so to speak, and less focused on self-reflection and resolving problems. It is easy to get stuck in survival mode, the feeling of overwhelm perpetuating the stagnation.
Either way if leaders and others have been too busy or too focused on results, systems, and processes and so on, and not enough on relationships, team dynamics, their leadership, key opportunities for growth and development may be overlooked or even missed.
Sometimes it takes a mutiny against a CEO, high levels of turnover in a team, people refusing to work together, loss of great talent, formal complaints about behavior, for leaders to stop, reflect and make lasting changes that will create the next and best chapter for the organization.
I find this is common place in the leaders I work with. Highly skilled, talented, inspirational leaders from the top levels of organizations, who suddenly get a big slap in the face. To their credit, after the initial shock or dismay, they take the slap in the best possible way. They view it as a key learning on their leadership journey and quickly get to work to find out – why them, why now, and what can be gained from the obstacle.
This is my passion, helping executives and other leaders find the magic in the pain. We embark on a journey to find their why. Crucial to resolving executive and other leadership conflict is to understand why and how the leader has co-contributed to the situation. There is always something that can be reflected upon, and adapted.
It is easy to run, hide, withdraw, attack, blame, resent, even leave when times get tough, but remarkable leaders do the opposite. They pause, listen, engage, take responsibility, perspective-take, feel empathy for themselves and others, accept the offering of growth and development through adversity, and take action.
Outlined here are 5 Benefits of Executive Conflict:
- lncreased self-awareness and an ability to quickly and easily make changes to the way executives lead and work with others
- Creation of high performance teams / organizations
- Helps define values, goals, visions and make effective decisions accordingly
- Great role-modelling for staff that is it ok to sometimes get it wrong
- Exponential professional and personal growth for leaders
Increased Self-Awareness of Executives
Increased self-awareness has never hurt anyone as far as I am aware! What it offers instead is the ability of the leader to create an environment that they and others will thrive in. Self-awareness can lead to greater flexibility and adaptability, working smarter not harder, working more effectively with others and greater leadership.
Once a leader is more aware of their key skills, preferences, attributes, goals, motivators, vision and so on, they are more able to see how these may have inadvertently in some cases co-contributed to challenging situations or relationships. It is not then about them changing who they are at their core, but knowing that in some situations, with some people they may need to employ different strategies to get the best result or outcome.
Creation of High Performance Organizations
It is no secret that high performance teams and organizations are usually diverse, not homogenous. Effectively resolving conflict and challenges, can allow high performance teams to flourish rather than disintegrate. Difference always brings challenges, anyone who is or has been married, or in a long term partnership knows this! What helps most is to consistently communicate effectively and ensure that your current and future goals are aligned.
One thing that has always struck me as very interesting in leadership conflicts. In pretty much every case, everyone involved, no matter if there are only two parties, or multiple parties, leaders are passionate about what they do, how they do it, and the organization they are working for.
This makes sense to me – the most talented, inspiring leaders, are able to pick and choose what they do, and who they work for, at least to some extent. Interestingly however, often during conflict, leaders have forgotten or stop seeing these qualities in the “other” and they question their colleague’s motivation, intent, and goals. Reconnecting on what is important makes a huge difference when resolving leadership conflict.
Defines Values, Visions, Goals, and Enhances the Ability to Make Effective Decisions
Sometimes we need to work out what is not working to know what we want. We need to get our values trampled on to understand what is most important to us. To feel stuck, demotivated, and unsupported, and to then emerge with clear goals and vision to help us and those around us flourish.
Executive conflict offers the opportunity for all this and more. I often find that people locked in conflict tend to know exactly what they don’t want and when questioned find it much harder to work out and express what they do want. This focus on what they don’t want, rather than what they do want, in itself leads to blockages, and an inability to achieve their goals How can we possibly get what we want if we have no idea what it is?
Effective decisions are borne out of an alignment of values, vision, and goals between Executives. If they are on the same page with what really matters, then decisions naturally flow.
Great Role-Modelling For Staff
What sort of a culture do you want? Perfection at all costs or humility? Honesty or cover ups? Hands up, taking responsibility or blame? Connection and communication, or resentment and withdrawal? Transparency or Confusion? Commitment or Seekers? Motivated staff or time wasters?
You create the culture every time you step into your organization. Your “mistakes”, learnings, or challenges, and how you deal with them shows those working with you how to handle themselves and others when faced with their own challenges. Are you rising with every challenges or shrinking and losing yourself? Are you engaging, discussing, and listening or are you running, hiding and blaming? What you do will be reflected in those around you.
Exponential Professional and Personal Growth for Leaders
Executive conflict presents a unique opportunity for a leader to develop from good to great – if they take it. When executives are prepared to accept conflict as a part of life and engage effectively with it, they open themselves up to exponential growth and development bot professionally and personally. The way we lead is often the way we do life. Crisis and conflict offer us enormous opportunities to become better, stronger, more effective, more purposeful, more present, more connected, and wiser.
Many leaders I have worked with have felt huge shame, embarrassment and anger for their involvement in conflict. They fear a loss of face, of reputation, and even threats to their career or leadership.
To the contrary, when leaders are supported with expert coaches and mediators to help them understand their role and co-contribution to the conflict, their increased self-awareness offers a massive opportunity for growth and development. The conflict enables them to create a new story about their leadership journey, focused on courage, resilience, determination, humility, and responsibility.
Executives willing to learn from conflict through exploring why them, why now, and how they can adapt, often show an incredible aptitude to make fast and unprecedented changes to the way they lead. Change is also often sustainable as they have invested time in increasing their self-awareness and developing their skills as a result of the adversity.
In conclusion, Executive Conflict provides an incredible opportunity to pause in our very fast paced world. Rather than dreading it, ignoring it, or outsourcing it, accepting it, committing to learning from it, and taking action is likely to lead to your greatest leadership moments.
No one expects perfection in leadership but they do expect responsibility-taking, empathy, resilience, humility, and positive action in the face of challenges. What are you hiding in your top desk drawer right now?!