>leading conflict

>I liked this article in today’s harvard business review http://s.hbr.org/aw8ePX

It’s an area that is sometimes overlooked when leadership is talked about.  I’m talking about conflict capability.  The leader is responsible for overseeing the dynamics of the team or group they are leading and this doesn’t always mean making sure everything is hunky dory all the time.  It includes ensuring that there can be conflict in the team.

Years ago, when I was co-working as a family therapist, one of my colleagues said something about assessing whether the family was ‘conflict capable’.  I met with some families who really knew how to row, and as a newbie, I imagined that those would be the families who were doomed to years of misery or who would be the most challenging to work with.  Not at all.  They were the families who had an ability to get everything out on the table, to examine difference, to be with their passions and emotions.  The quieter families, who never raised a cross word, who constantly smiled at each other (though on reflection, they were only smiling with their mouths, not their eyes) were the ones where you could feel the underlying frustrations they had with each other when you walked in the room, but nothing was ever said.  We all know that feeling of walking into a group of people and you just sense some kind of irritation or discord, but nothing is ever spoken-that’s your limbic system picking that up.  Things that really need to be said just don’t get said; they go underground.

One of the key bits of that HBR article is where it says that a big part of the job of the leader, the director of the film in this case, is to create enough trust where conflict can come out.  Naturally, I’m not suggesting that we go around all day picking fights with each other.  Neither would I suggest that we go out of our way, as leaders, to generate personal animosity amongst our teams.  Far from it, in fact, there is far too much interpersonal violence in our lives as it is.  The kind of conflict I’m suggesting is the kind where ‘what needs to get said, gets said’.  It is important that we ensure that this does not become an excuse for bad behaviour, though.  I’ve had someone say that to me as a justification for what I viewed as inexcusable rudeness and bullying of colleagues.  But sure enough, there is plenty that needs to get said in our teams and groups that will forge stronger working relationships and allow us to really work collaboratively.

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