7 Thoughts on Managing Conflict as a Leader

team conflict

As a leader, there are many times I feel like the mediator between opposing viewpoints. I’m steering towards a common, shared vision, but there are a myriad of opinions in how we accomplish the vision.

I’m not afraid of conflict on a team. In fact, I think it can be healthy for the team if handled correctly. It keeps tension from building unnecessarily, simply because emotions and opinions were hidden rather than addressed. It brings new ideas to the table and welcomes input from everyone. When conflict is ignored or stifled, it makes people feel devalued and controlled. I’ve written previously on managing conflict HERE and HERE.

When faced with conflict on my team, I realize the way I handle it will go a long way towards allowing the disagreement to work for the overall good. In fact, I must learn to better manage the conflicts rather than attempt to kill them.

Here are 7 thoughts for managing conflict on a team:

Interfere sparingly – I try not to take sides in conflict anymore than I have to, even when I have my own opinion. If the conflict isn’t a vision issue, and it seems to be resolving on it’s own, I’ve found it is best if I allow the process to take it’s course. When the leader gets involved in conflict it takes on a new life; often unnecessarily.

Listen carefully – I try to hear both sides of the conflict. Normally there are valid points on both sides. It’s important that I hear not only what is said, but also what is unspoken. That takes asking questions, getting to know the members of my team, and not assuming I know what people are thinking simply by what they say. Understanding the basis of conflict and the opposing viewpoints is critical to understanding the conflict.

Communicate – During times of conflict, it’s even more important that communication be clear and consistent. Many times, conflict is simply due to a lack of clarity or miscommunication. Information often makes conflict easier to resolve. As leader, part of my responsibility is making sure the team communicates effectively.

Discern the real issue – Conflict develops for a number of reasons; not all of them good. Beyond miscommunication, conflict also develops over power struggles, weak leadership, or simply personality differences. Discerning the nature of the conflict and if there is a root issue (often unspoken or undefined) helps me avoid trying to solve the perceived conflict, when the real issue is something completely different.

Monitor impact – As I said, conflict in and of itself is not bad, but part of my job is making sure conflict on a team doesn’t begin to harm rather than promote health of the team and it’s members. When individuals begin to attack each other personally, act in anger, form sides within the team, or distract from progress, it’s time for the leader to interfere.

Vision – Ultimately, my job as a leader is to maintain the integrity of the vision. Conflict can enhance or interfere with attaining the vision. My job is to continually direct the team’s attention back to our purpose.

Don’t be afraid of conflict on a team. Good leaders learn to manage it for the overall good of the team.

Leader, how do you manage conflict on your team?

Are You in a Controlling Environment?

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How controlling is the environment in which you lead?

That’s a great question, isn’t it?

I’ve previously written about controlling leadership. I tried to help you discern controlling leaders in THIS POST. I shared some ways to confront a controlling leader in THIS POST. And I shared some results of controlling leadership HERE.

But, what about the organization itself? How do you know if it’s controlling?

How well would you say new ideas flourish? Or do they?

You would want to know, wouldn’t you?

But, how do you?

Want to test yourself or your organization?

Ask yourself:

Do ideas determine systems?

Or

Do systems control ideas?

Here is another set of questions with the same thought:

When someone has a new idea, do you adapt, tweak, and create systems to support them?

Or

Do you decide whether or not the idea can survive based on your current systems?

Think about it. In a controlling environment, an idea can flourish only if there are systems to support the idea. In a less controlling environment, they create systems around the ideas…systems to make the ideas work.

Which is most true of your organization?

This doesn’t mean there won’t be ideas that aren’t a fit for the purpose, culture or DNA of the organization.

But, don’t let systems stifle creativity.

Let vision control your ability to move forward…not systems.

How would you discern a controlling environment?

7 Common Energy and Time Wasters for Leaders

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Wasting time and energy may be one of my biggest pet peeves as a leader. Some days I leave work and feel I never got off the treadmill. It’s physically and mentally draining.

Does that ever happen to you?

I firmly believe if we get rid of common energy wasters we can dramatically improve our performance as leaders. With that in mind, I’ve spent time in my personal development finding ways to eliminate time and energy wasters.

Here are 7 common wastes of energy in leadership:

Focussing attention on the naysayers – I have found that worrying over what the critics are saying, especially the ones I will never make happy, delays progress and takes time from and frustrates the positive people who believe in the vision and are ready to move forward.

Refusing to delegate – When I make every decision, or become too controlling as a leader, I rob myself and the team of valuable energy and talent and I feel overwhelmed more quickly.

Second guessing decisions – I find it is better to work to make better decisions moving forward rather than live in a pity party of bad ones already made.

Trying to have all the ideas – Many leaders feel they have to be the originator of all the creative energy of a team. They waste time brainstorming alone rather than expanding the creative process. Consequently, the best ideas often never surface. Original thoughts, better than ours, are usually in the room or the organization if we will welcome them to the table and it preserves my time for more efficient use.

Living with broken structure – Let’s face reality. Over time, rules take on a life of their own. What was once created to improve structure actually begins to slow progress and waste valuable time. Change the rules…or even drop them… and you often free up valuable space for people to breathe and enjoy their work.

Disorganization – Need I expand? Many leaders feel overwhelmed because they don’t have good organizational skills. Learning how to better handle routine tasks such as processing emails, calendaring, and scheduling work flow each week will drastically improve time efficiency.

Completing tasks not designed for me – This could be any number of things. Even reading a book. For example, perhaps a silly example, but I have discovered that sometimes I read too much. That sounds strange…I know…but really it’s because I read things I didn’t need to read. I start a book and within the first chapter I know it’s not helpful or even enjoyable…my sense of completion wants to finish. but, better is to put it aside and pick up another book. The novel length email…I try to determine first if I’m the one who should respond. Many times I’m not. It could be attending a meeting…or supervising a project. Whatever it is that I am not the best person for the job or it is just a time waster, the sooner I stop it or hand off the task, the more energy I preserve.

What energy wasters have you seen in leadership?

5 Common Reasons People Criticize Change

Chalkboard with text Changes

I’ve learned in leading change that there are some common objections. If you know a change is necessary, understanding why someone is objecting may help you respond accordingly.

Here are 5 common reasons for criticism of change:

Confused -These people just don’t understand the change. They lack information. Often they have heard misinformation. Many times, in my experience, once the change is explained, they become supportive or less opposed.

Conflicted – Some people object to change because they are objecting to life. They have past hurts they can’t resolve. They are injured. Frankly, some people can be mean. This category can be the most hurtful as a leader, but understanding them may help you avoid a lot of heartache. These people will likely always be critics until something is addressed with them directly. Understanding their pain can often lead to helping them heal from something in their past. If the change is necessary, you may have to confront these people directly or simply learn to work around them. You can’t allow their personality or emotional injury to hold you back from what you need to do as a leader.

Care – These people simply don’t think you care. They assume, for whatever reason, the changes are being made without considering their position. These are many times changes which appear to favor one particular group of people at the inconvenience of another. I have seen that many times including people in the decision process, acknowledging and attempting to understand their concerns, along with good vision casting can alleviate some of these concerns.

Control – You stepped on someone’s power. You didn’t check with them first. This reason for criticism is probably most frustrating to me, because there’s little you can do about it unless you’re willing to appease them. I have found that many times pride and selfishness is the driving force here. As difficult as this type criticism is to accept, I have observed that patient, honest, transparent conversations, while remaining firm with the change, can sometimes keep these critics from working against you, even if they still don’t agree with the change. (And, then sometimes, you simply have to move forward without their support.)

Comfort – These critics, who are the most common group, simply don’t like change. It’s uncomfortable. Resistance to change is relative to the size of the change. We all resist change at some level. Let me give you an example. Imagine your day off has been Saturday for the last 20 years. Suddenly your employment changes your day off to Tuesday. You now have to work Saturdays. How comfortable is that change? Don’t resonate with that example? Pick an issue where you’re currently comfortable and consider changing it. Try enough scenarios and you’ll find your level of resistance to change. The only solution to this one is to provide clear communication, cast the vision well, and be patient as people adapt.

Criticism is common in leadership and change. The only way to avoid it is to avoid change. I’m not sure that’s leadership, but that’s the only solution to be criticism-free. The fact is, the more change occurs and the more it becomes part of the culture, the less resistance there will be.

I should note, this post is not intended to help you avoid criticism, and certainly not completely dismiss it. As a leader, you must consider whether the criticism is valid, be open to other ideas and even rebuke if needed. Thinking all your ideas are great is an error in judgement and character. This post is intended to help you understand the basis of criticism. Even the best ideas will receive some.

You may want to read 5 Right Ways to Respond to Criticism and 5 Wrong Ways to Respond to Criticism.

Are there any other reasons you have seen for criticism?

What Does “Healthy” Mean in Church Leadership?

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I was talking with a young hurting pastor recently. He resigned after several years of trying to turn around a dying church into a healthy church. The church brought him in with definite goals. He felt he had a mandate. The church began to grow. Things were exciting…or so it seemed. But, with every change there was growing resistance. Eventually, only a few people with power still supported him. when they refused to back him with changes they had agreed were needed. He was continually reminded this was not “his church”. He felt it was best that he leave rather than divide the church. (This church has a long history of short-termed pastorates.)

In the course of the conversation he asked some sobering, and honest questions.

He asked, “Is there really such a thing as a healthy church? Are there any healthy church staffs? And, what does healthy mean, anyway?”

Great questions. I understand. Sadly, I hear from pastors continually asking the same questions. There are many unhealthy environments in churches.

But, yes! There is such a thing as a healthy church. There are some healthy church staffs.

I don’t know if I know completely what “healthy” means, but I’ve given the issue some thought.

The reality is that the church is the Body of Christ. In the purest form, the church is always “healthy”, because it represents Christ. We are promised that nothing will ever destroy what Christ has established. But, local churches are made of people. And, some of those people, even well-meaning as they may be sometimes, work together to form unhealthy environments. Some work together…for the common good of honoring Christ…and form healthy environments.

So, with that in mind…

A healthy church culture…

  • Doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days
  • Doesn’t mean you won’t have tension or stress.
  • Doesn’t mean everyone always agrees.
  • Doesn’t mean there aren’t relationship struggles.
  • Doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
  • Doesn’t mean the pastor is always right.
  • Doesn’t mean problems or issues are ignored.

A healthy church culture…

  • Does mean you can disagree and still be friends.
  • Does mean tension is used to build teamwork..when one is weak another is strong.
  • Does mean meetings are productive and purposeful…not ritualistic or boring, and certainly not hurtful.
  • Does mean rules add healthy boundaries, rather than stifling creativity or controlling actions.
  • Does mean you work as a team to find solutions.
  • Does mean the pastor (and his family) is never attacked publicly or continually stabbed in the back.
  • Does mean the rumor mill is never allowed to form the dominant opinion.

I’m praying for my new pastor friend that he finds a healthy church, in which to serve out his calling. They do exist.

Have you been in an unhealthy church or organizational environment?

Have you been in a healthy one?

What do you think it means to have a healthy?

4 Suggestions for Developing Trust as a Leader

Elegant leader

Trust is like gold in leadership. Without it a leader will fail to build a healthy following. Developing trust takes time. It is seldom granted with position alone. Most people have been injured in relationships that keeps them from trusting blindly. But, developing trust is critical for leaders to pursue and maintain.

In full disclosure, I’m 7 months into a new leadership position as this post is written. I recognize that with many in the church I pastor I’m still developing levels of trust.

How does a leader develop trust?

Here are four suggestions:

A Compassion for others that is personal and goes beyond what they bring to the team.

A Competence in a subject matter, or a willingness to yield to those who know more than the leader knows about a subject.

A Consistent approach or methodology, as well as consistency in character, that can be depended on through good and bad times.

A clear and frequent Communication process that shares in transparency and full disclosure.

Those are some of my suggestions.

What can you offer?

7 Issues that Distract a Leader from Success

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I recently wrote 7 ideas which will help you attain more success. It seems a counter post is merited.

Here are 7 issues that will distract you from success as a leader:

Trying to plan every detail – Ecclesiastes says you won’t plant if you watch the wind. Risk is always necessary for meaningful success.

Lack of flexibility – Things change. Have a great vision, but realize the road to accomplish it may change many times along the way.

Shunning or controlling other people – You can’t do it alone. You don’t have the corner on ideas. You need help.

Holding on to a grudge or attempting to get even – The wasted energy of an unforgiving spirit slows you down from meaningful achievement.

Worrying more than you pray – The unknown brings doubt but faith goes without seeing. Take your pick. Only one answer allowed.

Being stingy with your time, money or influence – The more you try to control what you hold in your hand, the stingier your heart becomes. Stingy hearts are burdened by unnecessary distractions. (The one who loved money is never satisfied with his wealth. Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Having to do things “your way” – When you limit the input of others you rob the team of expanded imagination and you discourage potential leaders from rising.

What would you add?

Are one of these keeping you from accomplishing all you could?

One Suggestion to Take Stress from the Hiring Process

Handshake and teamwork

There is so much stress involved in hiring the right person for the team. I have a suggestion with may help.

We recently did this with several new staff positions on our team.

Build the job description around the person.

Set the vision for the job, hire the best person you can find (and/or afford as the case may be)…then build the job description…with the person’s help…around that person.

If they excel in administrative tasks…the job description may have more administrative tasks.

If they excel in creative tasks…the job description may have more creative tasks.

Find the right people and you can shape a team around them. This is true whether they are paid or volunteer.

This approach allows you to hire for character, competence, experience and fit with the team, but doesn’t limit you to finding an exact replica of a clearly defined, narrowly focused job description.

Here’s the deal. I ultimately just want a strong team. I want people who share an overall vision with me. But, I don’t want to script how they accomplish their specific part of the vision. This way of hiring allows me to be a leader instead of a manager. It frees people to be leaders instead of employees.

And, I best of all…it makes for a much happier, more productive team.

Find the right people and you can build the right team.

Do you have any hiring tips you could share?

A Sign You’re On a Healthy Team

power meeting from above

I’ve often said that good leaders never assume silence means that everyone is in agreement.

I still believe that. Leaders and situations can be intimidating. Some team members simply choose not to participate.

There is one caveat to this principle, however.

When a team is healthy, the leader is approachable, and team members are encouraged to participate in discussion:

Silence can be interpreted as agreement.

That’s because:

  • The freedom to challenge is present
  • The fear of retribution is absent
  • The power of unity is prominent
  • The spirit of cooperation is elevated
  • The synergy of differences is celebrated

When you are on a healthy team, people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they don’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.

I’ll be candid, as i write this, I’m six months into leading a new team. I’m not sure we are there yet, but in the months to come, I’ll be looking to measure progress in this way.

Ask yourself this question: What does silence on the team indicate?

In that answer, if you’re honest, you may find the answer.

Are you serving on a healthy team?

7 Leadership Default Zones

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There are a lot of gray issues in leadership. Having a default zone when things on both sides appear equal or you are uncertain about a decision may help you make better decisions. These aren’t foolproof, as many things in leadership are not, but having a general idea which way you would “default” to in common situations that occur most frequently in leadership may prove to be helpful.

If you consistently have to make the same type decisions as a leader, think through which way has over time proven to be best. That becomes your default zone.

Here are some of my leadership default zones:

In matters of hiring…default to no over yes – If in doubt over whether the person is a good fit, I vote no. It’s not worth taking a chance when adding to the team and when I haven’t followed this one it has usually turned out to be a mistake.

If you think you shouldn’t say it…don’t – I often don’t follow my own advice here, but I’ve learned if my gut is telling me to “keep a tight rein on my tongue”, it’s likely to be a Biblical conviction. The more I discipline myself in this area the more respect I garner as a leader.

If it’s between empower or control…choose empower – Except in cases such as vision or a moral issue, letting go of control and empowering others almost always works out better than expected. Even if the person isn’t successful, I have seen that the learning curve for them and the team is huge and often some of the best discoveries for the team are made when I get out of the way.

My preference or the team’s preference…go with the team – There are times I have to make the hard decision to stand alone, but I try to surround myself with people smarter than me. If I am clearly outnumbered, I tend to lean on the wisdom of the team. You won’t keep respect as a leader if you continually stand opposite your team and keep being proved wrong.

In person or by email…choose in person – By far, email is my most frequent communication tool. It has to be, just because of the sheer number of communications I have in a given week. But, when I can, especially with our staff, I choose the personal touch. Get up from the desk and walk down the hall when it is an available option. Email and text are misunderstood far too many times.

If there’s doubt…ask for clarification – If you aren’t sure you understand what someone is thinking…if it doesn’t appear they understand you…rather than assume…ask. I’m continually asking my team something such as, “When you said _____, can you help me understand what you meant by that?” Misunderstanding leads to strained relationships and unhealthy teams.

Grace or dismissal…choose grace – There are times when you simply have to make the difficult decision. But, when you can….extend grace. Some of my best, more loyal team members became that way only by grace.

Learning some of your leadership default zones may make you a better leader.

Do you have any you would add?