12 Hard Things to Say – 5 Ways to Say Them as a Leader

men sitting on sofa at home and talking

In any relationship, there comes a time where it’s necessary to say things which are difficult to keep the relationship strong and make it better. This is also true in a healthy team environment. All leaders have things they need to say, which are hard sometimes.

For me personally, this often involves having a challenging conversation with a team member – someone I love being on the team, but know they need correction in an area, which is affecting the team. These are always discussions I’d rather not have, but I know are necessary for the continued health of the relationship, the team, and the individual.

Over the years, I have had many of these issues which required “tough love” to address them. I began my business leadership experience in retail management. At certain times of the year there could be 100’s of associates on the sales floor. It provided ample opportunity for problems I had to address with individuals.

But, those opportunities have continued throughout my career in leadership. And, dealing with problems has included me having to say things such as:

  • You’re too controlling as a leader.
  • You can be perceived as a real jerk to people.
  • Your laziness is dragging down the team.
  • You have body odor.
  • You’re making making too many mistakes and don’t seem to be learning from them.
  • You are non-responsive to your team members or others. It’s slowing down progress and it’s unfair to everyone else.
  • Your personal life is impacting your work. How can I help?
  • You don’t know how to take constructive criticism.
  • You are too critical of new ideas.
  • You are moving too fast.
  • You are moving too slow.
  • You are uncooperative.

I should note – most of these have not been said with my current team – thankfully.

Through my years in leadership, however, I have had to say each one of these statements to someone I was supposed to be leading. Those conversations, as awkward and uncomfortable as they are, always prove to be good for the team and the team member.

In full disclosure, there have been times when someone needed to have similar “tough love” conversations with me and those discussions always made me better, as difficult as they were to receive at the time.

If you have to have one of those conversations, I have learned some principles to make them more palatable.

Here are 5 tips to have hard conversations:

Handle the conversation as quickly as possible – If the problem is clear in your mind (and usually everyone else’s mind), and you’ve witnessed the problem long enough to know it’s a pattern, don’t delay long in addressing the issue.

Be honest – This is not the time to shift blame, make excuses or dance around the issue. Be clear about the problem as you perceive it.

Be kind and helpful – You may read my post 5 Ways to Rebuke a Friend. Although this post deals more with a subordinate than simply with a friend, the previous post suggestions may be helpful here also. Your end goal should be to make the team member and the team better after the conversation. Don’t just blast a person. Use the “sandwich approach” when possible. Place the hard words in the midst of things which are good about the person and your commitment to them.

Have a two-way conversation – You should be willing to listen as much as you speak. You may not have all the facts exactly right – or you may have – but give the person a chance to respond to the criticism you are addressing. This also means you should have a two-way conversation, and not a multiple party conversation. You should address the issue with the person you have a problem with, not with others on the team behind his or her back. If you need someone in the room with you for perception issues or as a witness, make sure they are committed to privacy.

Move forward after the conversation – The person being corrected should leave with the assurance you are moving forward, and, provided improvements are made, do not plan to hold the issue against them. It will be important they see you responding likewise in the days ahead.

Know when enough is enough – You shouldn’t have to have these type conversations too frequently. Talk becomes cheap if there’s no backing to what’s agreed upon. If there seems to be no improvement over time, harder decisions or more intensive help may be needed. If you have done the other steps here, there is a time when tough love says “that’s enough – no more”. You are not doing your job as a leader if you continue to ignore the issues everyone else sees as critical to the health of a team.

One of the most difficult times for me as a leader is addressing issues like this with a team member I genuinely care about, but I know it’s one of my roles as a leader to address these most difficult issues.

What would you add to my examples of difficult conversations you have had with someone on your team?

7 Ways to Gain and Keep Trust as a Leader

female leader

People follow people they trust.

I’ve found trust develops over time and experience – as we witness trustworthy behavior. Honestly, as a leader, I’ve felt a delicate tension in maintaining trust. People look for a leader to be strong, independent and confident. Yet, we trust people who are approachable, inclusive and humble.

How do we combine those traits to be trusted leaders?

Here are 7 ways to gain and keep trust as a leader:

Always display confidence, but never cockiness. People will trust a competent leader, but one who is arrogant will be dismissed quickly.

Always follow through, which means you never over-commit. When a leader does what they says they will, people gain trust. When the leader always bails on responsibility – when they have a new idea every day, but nothing ever comes to reality – people begin to doubt everything the leader says.

Always put trust in others, so you’ll have an opportunity for them to put trust in you. Trust is a mutually exclusive commodity. People won’t extend you trust they don’t feel they receive from you. This means you must not be controlling, micro-managing, or negative towards every new idea they bring to the table. It means you must empower, delegate, and give authority to people.

Always extend grace, but be firm in some non-negotiables. I have written previously about the non-negotiable things for me in leadership – things such as responsiveness and mutual-respect – and I share them often with our team. We should have some standards which are not open to discussion. Those should usually be issues of character, vision or values. But, we need to allow people the freedom make their own way, including the freedom to fail, make mistakes, and be assured we will forgive them if needed.

Always try to be knowledgeable and aware by constantly learning, but realize you don’t know everything and you’ll know far more with a team. People trust a teachable leader. They are leery of a leader who knows it all – or pretends they do. We must ask questions, allow others on our team to teach us at times, continually seek wisdom and develop individually, just as we expect those we are trying to lead to do.

Always exhibit humility, but have courage to do the hard things. A trusted leader is humble enough to share recognition, but diligent to do the things everyone expects of the leader – such as lead through the hard seasons, remain calm in crisis, and encourage others when they need hope.

Always value people more than you value progress. This is especially difficult for driven leaders. We want success and this often is measured in numbers. But, people trust people they know genuinely care for them. We must see people as individuals, get to know them, and genuinely love the people we are trying to love – considering their interests even ahead of our own.

What other ways would you add to gain and keep trust as a leader?

Leadership Advice: Be Careful Making Decisions from an Ivory Tower

tower

I was talking with with a pastor recently. He has made some decisions he feels are best for the church. In listening to him, I think he’s probably making good decisions. They are needed from the perspective of where he sits in the organization of the church. His next step was to present the changes to the church.

I asked him how the staff felt about the changes. He said he hand’t told them yet. He had handled it with the elders and they supported him. They would find out with the church.

What? What?

Again, I said, “what”?

I watched this happen when I was in manufacturing. When decisions, which affect the assembly line, are made in the boardroom they seldom work and are always resented. The quality of work diminishes and production stalls.

I watched it happen when I was in sales. When sales procedures are handed down as edicts, without including the input of salespeople, morale is damaged, which ultimately has a negative impact on sales.

In this church and several churches I’ve consulted with over the years, I’ve realized it also happens in churches. When the pastor, or a body of senior leaders, make decisions, which impact the children’s ministry, for example, without the input of people who are actually doing children’s ministry, resentment builds, momentum stalls, and people resist the changes.

I have some advice for ministry leaders — really all leaders.

Be careful making decisions from the so-called “Ivory Tower”.

Many leaders lead with a top down approach, passing down decisions without consulting with those who have to live with the decisions made. It’s easy in leadership to forget real people have to implement your decisions. It’s not helpful, inefficient and, frankly, it’s unkind.

Don’t stand in the tower. Get out among the people you lead. Learn from them and let them give input into the decisions made in the organization.

Great leaders build decisions from the ground up, not from the top down.

5 Suggestions of How to Add Good Structure to an Organization

Constructor sujetando un ladrillo construyendo un muro.

I think there is value in unstructured growth. We shouldn’t be afraid of growth we cannot understand. It’s messier, harder to contain, even uncomfortable at times, but it also keeps leaders energized, maintains momentum, and helps spur exponential growth.

As the organization grows – as strategy changes – additions in structure have to be added. Adding structure, however, can be a painful and disruptive process if not handled carefully. We must add structure strategically.

Too many churches are stalled because when things got messy they simply added a new rule.

The fact is structure should never be too inflexible. It should change with the organization. It should even change at times with the people who are in the organization.

How do you add good, helpful structure?

Here are 5 suggestions to add good structure to an organization:

The change should make sense with the organizational DNA.

We have to be careful altering something in a way which could disrupt the fiber, core, or root foundation of the organization. DNA is formed fast, but changed slowly – and sometimes never. It’s who an organization is and who people have come to expect it to be. It’s hard to disrupt this without disrupting future potential for growth. The structure we will add or change in church revitalization will likely look different from the structure we had in church planting. And every church and organization is unique. 

The structure added should not impede progress.

This seems common sense to me, but I’ve learned this is not always the case. Structure should further enable the completion of the vision, not detract from it. Notice I said progress not grow with this suggestion. It could be you need some temporary structure which slows growth for a season. When I was in city leadership there was a time we needed to slow the pace of growth so we could catch up with infrastructure in the city. I can. We saw that as progress. If it slowed growth forever it would no longer be progress. An organization which never grows will eventually die – hence the following suggestion. The key is structure should consider the future potential for long-term sustainability of the organization. 

It should accommodate or encourage continued future growth.

Again, this should make sense. The problem is we don’t always ask those questions. Structure’s purpose should be to help the organization continue to grow over time. Structure should make things more efficient — not less. Enable not control. 

It should hit the center of acceptance.

Not everyone will agree with any change, but if the structure is universally opposed then it may need to be considered more closely before being implemented. This goes back to the suggestion about DNA. You shouldn’t make change based solely upon popularity – it needs a better thought process than simply what people like. Leadership is never about making people happy. But, at the same time, if you want the structure to be sustainable and helpful it must meet general acceptance – which leads to the last suggestion.  

People should understand the why.

This may be the most important. People are more likely to accept structure when they can identify the value to them and their area of responsibility — but at least the value to the overall organization. I once interviewed Zig Ziglar. He continually said, “If people understand the why they will be less opposed to the what.” I’ve learned how true this principle is over the years. We took a year to make one structural change so people could clearly understood why we were making it. Some still didn’t. Most did. And, it was a widely accepted change in our structure. 

What would you add to my list?

7 Attributes of a Wise Leader

Portrait of a senior man sitting in an armchair and thinking deeply.Shot with Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

I write and speak a lot about leadership. I know lots of good leaders. In fact, I work with many good leaders. I hope some would even say I have days where I meet the standard – whatever the standard is.

I also write and speak a good deal about wisdom. And, I think wisdom is critical to the field of good leadership. 

A wise leader has developed certain attributes –  wisdom learned from the personal experience of success and failure and from the insight of other leaders – which sets them apart from other leaders. Wise leaders are valuable to any organization. 

But, I’ll be honest. There are few I know in leadership whom I would consider truly wise. Wise leaders have moved to a new stage in life from mostly learning from others to being looked to as a resource. People seek their input because they know they are seasoned leaders. They are investors in new generations of leaders.

I am going to list some attributes I have observed in leaders who have  wisdom. Think in your mind people you believe are “wise” leaders.

Here are 7 attributes of a wise leader:

The art of timing

The wise leader knows time is a commodity. They use sound judgement in decision-making. They have patience. They know organizations and individuals have seasons. Seasons of plenty and seasons of want. They have learned there is a right time to act and and there are times to wait.

Character Morality

The wise leader places a high value on integrity. They know ultimately everything rises and falls on the moral fiber of an individual. They’ve seen people lose everything with one bad decision. They know reputation is hard-earned and should be treated as gold.

Leads with Vision

The wise leader understands the value of a big picture. They keep an eye on something worth attaining. They continually motivate others by sharing the “Why”. They know momentum lost is hard to regain. They continually seek change which will spur energy around the vision.

Initiative

The wise leader is risk-taking and intentionally encourages innovation. They have witnessed a stalled organization. They know the dreadful feeling when there is no forward progress. They have personally experienced the cost of lost opportunity. They want to engage others by keeping things moving, people dreaming and the culture exciting.

Visible Diligence

The wise leader continues in spite of adversity. They tenaciously persevere. They know reaching a goal is worth the struggles to get there. They’ve been through storms before and have scars to prove you can come through them whole. They are seen as pillars. Strength under duress. People look to them for stability.

Strategic thinkers

The wise leader realizes no dream becomes reality without proper planning. They make sure plans are in place and people know what’s expected of them. They utilize healthy systems and structures. They aren’t burdensome with rules, but they are helpful in thinking through a process to achieve the goals and objectives of the organization.

Genuinely Love People

The wise leader knows people are the key to any organizational or team success and they work to empower others. Others know they are valued and appreciated under their leadership. They are true delegators. They invest in and develop the next generation. They look past the income statement to see the balance sheet — with people as the greatest asset.

What am I missing? What would you add to my list?

7 Causes of Team Idleness – and a Few Suggestions to Help

Businesswoman bored in office isolated on white

Team idleness

Team idleness is a term I use to describe when a team is failing to move forward towards its desired goals and objectives.

Team idleness does not always mean the wrong people are on the team — it could. It doesn’t always mean the team has the wrong goals and objectives or the goals and objectives are unrealistic. It could.

It simply means things have stalled. Period. The term means for a span of time there is no — or very little – forward progress for the team. Idleness. It could be a month or several months. Things aren’t desperate – yet. They’ve simply slowed.

Every team, regardless of their health, can go through times of team idleness.

I have witnessed team idleness many times in organizations with which I have been associated – in business and in the church. I can assure you most teams will deal with team idleness at various times through the life of the team.

What causes team idleness? What causes a team to stagnate?

Here are a 7 thoughts – and a few tips along the way:

No fresh ideas.

If new ideas are not coming to the table frequently the team becomes stale and progress slows. One way we address this is to periodically schedule times where the only agenda is brainstorming – dreaming – answering the question “what’s next?” Also, reading books together, attending a conference, or visiting other healthy organizations or churches can help generate new ideas.

Burnout.

If team members are overworked or in need of a break their energy level will slow. This has to be encouraged and allowed in the structure. For me it’s essential I discipline myself to rest frequently. I try to personally lead by example here. Shared values and shared workload help here. There should be no Lone Rangers on a healthy team.

Lost vision.

If a team loses sight of the big picture goals and objectives they can lose interest or get off course. Vision-casting is an essential task of every leader – and it needs to be done frequently. Celebrating also keeps what’s valued ever before the team.

Misplaced team members.

Again, I didn’t say wrong team members. It could be, but many times idleness is caused when a vision outgrows members of the team and other times when team members outgrow the vision. People sometimes need a reassignment of duties or a change of focus. They need new goals which further stretch them. It’s not a bad idea to occasionally shift the organizational structure and chart. 

Lack of Resources.

If there are not adequate resources to complete the task the work becomes frustrating and the team stalls. While we need to be stretched and walk by faith, it’s equally important not to push people beyond where the structure can support them long-term. Unreasonable expectations – over time – cause team members to naturally slow their individual productivity, which impacts the entire team. Leaders must make sure the team has the resources they need to do what they’ve been asked to do.

Poor training.

Sometimes people are asked to perform beyond their level of understanding. No one is helping them get to the next level and so they stall waiting for further investment into them. I have found it rare for people to voluntarily ask for more. Leaders must recognize potential in others and intentionally develop the people around them.

No accountability.

Teams idle when they stay the same for too long. Frankly, sometimes things stall because no one is pushing things to continually grow or holding people to higher standards of excellence. Growth and momentum are seldom self-produced. Change, at least good change, never comes without purposeful efforts. Leaders must become champions of new innovation and continual progress individually and for everyone on the team.

The problem with team idleness is it doesn’t stay simply at idle. You know that leaders. Idle turns to decline and often quickly. Idleness will come naturally. Our goal should be not to rest there long.

Have you served – or do you serve – on an idle team? Tell us about it.

7 Ways to Respond to a Lazy Co-Worker

Lazy person

I’ve always valued hard work and usually resented lazy workers.

There. I said it. I have a bias against laziness.  

I started working when I was 12 years old in a grocery store. I worked hard, gained the recognition of my managers, and was rewarded with all the hours I wanted to work. The store was a revolving door of workers it seemed. I worked with some much older than me who didn’t last long, because they really didn’t want to work. They wanted to sneak into the break room and have a coke or take an extraordinary amount of time taking the trash out each night.

Please understand, I’m not talking about people who protect their family time (I do that) or people who work smart so they can enjoy life. (I try to do that too.) I’m also not talking about people who honestly want to work, but can’t for legitimate health reasons. 

I’m talking about people who are lazy. People who don’t want to work. They often have a job, but give far less than their best to it. They want a paycheck, they want to eat well, but they don’t really want to earn their pay. 

(I told you I’ve usually resented people like this. Can you tell? 🙂 )

Something even more frustrating — if you are in a equal position to a lazy person, and you are not their leader and no one seems to do anything about it. You feel taken advantage of because of your hard work.

Not long ago I was stopped at a conference and asked if I saw laziness as a problem on church staffs. The questioner is in a large church where most of the staff work extremely hard, but a few barely get their work done. They are, in his opinion, lazy — and seem to get by with it. He wanted to know if this was unusual.

Of course, I assured this frustrated person, lazy people exist in every field. Wherever you find people you’ll encounter problems with people. Churches are places where people work, so some of the same problems that exist outside the church exist inside the church.

His real question, however, was “What should he do?” I shared a few thoughts and told him to read for a post to follow.

Here are 7 ways to treat lazy people:

Make sure it’s not a perception problem

Make sure you aren’t confusing a different work style with laziness. Make sure you aren’t lumping your overachiever mindset on them. People approach work differently. This is not always laziness. It could be they’ve found a way to work smarter and more efficiently. Look at the person’s performance based on results, not based on style.

Model hard work for them

This is your best offense. Some lazy people are encouraged by watching what they should be doing. Some will adapt to the environment if the environment is working hard. The completions will spur them. Certainly though, over time the lazy worker will be exposed. Then it is up to leadership to address the issue. (I know the question here — what happens if they don’t? That would be the subject of another post. This was is about co-workers.)

Pray for them to step up or leave

This sounds harsh, but if they are impacting your morale they are most likely impacting it for others. They are damaging the credibility and momentum of the organization for the rest of the team. Laziness is a sin. They need a heart change more than anything.

Don’t let them take advantage of you

You only enable them if you cover for them or do the work they were assigned to do. Lazy people seem to seek those out who will pick up their slack.

Challenge when necessary

If it’s clear a person is lazy and taking advantage of the situation, there comes a time when it’s right to challenge them. You should do so in love, but use the Matthew 18 approach — going to them first — then bringing along another if it continues. Work through the chain of command. It’s better to challenge lovingly than to let the resentment in your heart destroy your witness as you develop bitterness towards the other person. If you’re the senior leader — do your job to handle the problem.

Make sure it’s not personal to you or the organization

Could laziness be the result of something else? Could they be reacting to issues within their own life, or with a vision disagreement? That doesn’t mean they should stay or go, but it should impact the way you respond.

Help them with specific tasks

Sometimes you can help a lazy person, even if they don’t report to you, by helping them find things to do. Lazy people typically aren’t looking. If there is work to do they can do, ask them to help you or to assume responsibility for it. Structure is often the key need.

Have you ever worked with a lazy person? What did you do?

7 Ways to Maintain Respect as a Leader

respect

People follow people they trust. They trust people they respect.

As a leader, one of your most valuable and needed assets is the respect of the people you are trying to lead. If a leader is respected, people will follow him or her almost anywhere.   If a leader looses respect it becomes very difficult to regain respect.

Often a new leader is given respect because of his or her position as a leader, but respect can be quickly lost due to performance. Many times it’s the seemingly small things which cause the most damage to a leader’s reputation and damages respect.

I have found with a few simple (some not so simple) acts help protect the respect a leader enjoys.

Here are 7 ways to maintain respect as a leader:

Be responsive. Return phone calls and emails promptly. Be accessible to real people. You may not always be available, but you can create systems where people are genuinely valued and heard.

Be consistent. Do what you say you will do. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Don’t tell people what they want to hear, but speak grace and truth in all circumstances. Let people learn to trust you are a person of your word and can be depended upon based on what you say.

Have high character. Act with integrity. Be honest. Protect your moral credibility. Be transparent and open to challenge. Allow a few people to know the real you and speak into the dark places of your life.

Be fair to everyone. Don’t be too harsh. Don’t be too soft. Treat everyone with respect. Genuinely love people. (People know when you do or don’t.)

Keep growing. Learn continually and encourage growth in yourself and others. Ask questions. Be teachable. Read. Observe. Glean from others and experience.

Have good work ethic. I personally think leaders should work as hard or harder than others on their team. But, having a good work ethic doesn’t mean over-working either. It’s working smart and setting a good example for others to follow.

Be courageous. Make hard decisions. Don’t shy away from conflict. Know who you are in Christ and live boldly the calling God places on your life. Live with the aim to finish well — in spite of the obstacles you encounter.

Maintaining respect is a matter of acting in a respectable way. How are you doing? You may want to ask the ones you are supposed to be leading.

What would you add to my list?

10 Characteristics of Good Leadership – an Expanded and Revised Version

Multiethnic business team outdoor

When I first wrote about the characteristics of good leadership almost 6 years ago. At the time I had been a leader for well over 20 years and had studied the field o leadership academically. My blog was fairly new but growing.

These were designed to be informative, but honestly, even more, they served as a checklist reminder of sorts for my own attempts at good leadership.

Since then my blog influence has grown, I’ve moved from a church planter to a church revitalizer, and I’ve learned so much more. Still, when I look over these characteristics, I stand behind then. I’ve tweaked them a bit for readability purposes. (Every time I read my writings again I see something which could be improved.)

Here are 10 characteristics of good leadership:

1. Recognizes the value in other people, so continually invests in others – Good leaders see a large part of their role as developing people and new leaders. Leadership development takes place in an organization as leaders begin to share their experiences, both positive and negative, with others.

2. Shares information – There is a tendency of some leaders to hold information, because information is power. A good leader uses this to the team’s advantage knowing the more information the team has collectively the stronger the team.

3. Has above average character – There are no perfect people, but for a leader to be considered good, in my opinion, they must have a character which is unquestioned within the organization. Their integrity and transparency is paramount. Leadership always draws criticism, so a leader may not be able to get everyone to believe in him or her, but the people who know the leader best should trust the leader’s character most.

4. Uses their influence for the good of others – Good leaders are as interested in making a positive difference in people’s lives as they are in creating a healthy profit margin or accomplishing a strategy. In fact, people-building is a large part of the strategy. This doesn’t mean that balance sheets and income statements aren’t important, in fact they are important for the success of an organization (even non-profits – even churches), but a good leader doesn’t separate a desire for helping others from the desire for financial health. And, good leaders find ways to leverage financial health to strengthen the well-being of others.

5. Skillful, competent and professional– Good leaders are talented or knowledgeable about their field and can be depended on for their follow through. You don’t question whether a good leader is going to be able to complete a task. They may not be the smartest in the room, but if they don’t know how to do something, they will find someone who does and they aren’t afraid to ask or empower others. They will ensure a job they have committed to do is done the best it can be done. This also means they don’t commit to more than they can reasonably accomplish. They know the power of “No!”

6. Not afraid for others to succeed (even greater than their own success) – Good leaders realize some followers will outgrow the leader’s ability to develop them any further. Good leaders, however, aren’t threatened by another’s success. They are willing to celebrate as those around them succeed — even help them get there.

7. Serve others expecting nothing in return – Good leaders have a heart of service. They truly love and value people and want to help others for the good of the one being helped, not necessarily for personal gain.

8. Continue to learn – Good leaders are always learning and implementing those learnings into the betterment of the organization. That could be through reading, conferences, web-based learnings, or through other leaders, but also through people who report to the leader.

9. Accessible, approachable, and accountable to others – Good leaders don’t isolate themselves from people regardless of the amount of responsibility or power he or she attains. Good leaders willingly seek the input of other people into their professional and personal lives. They desire to know people, not just be known by people.

10. Visionary – thinks beyond today – Good leaders are always thinking “What’s next?” It is a common question asked by good leaders, knowing someone must continually challenge the boundaries and encourage change. They spur growth and strategic thinking so the organization can remain healthy, vibrant and sustainable.

These are in no particular order. You may say some are more important than others but as soon as I prioritize them we can start to marginalized the higher numbers. They are all important in my opinion. 

What would you add to my list?

5 Tips for the Leader When Conflict Develops on a Team

team conflict

As a leader, one of your primary roles is developing and maintaining the health of the team. What do you do when team members aren’t getting along with each other?  How should you handle conflict on a team?

In my post 10 Tips for Handling Conflict, I primarily address team members individually working together to address conflict. The question I receive is: What happens when conflict escalates to the point where a leader’s input is needed?

First, I would say the leader being involved should be rare. Very rare. Most problems need to be handled individually. If it’s occurring frequently you may have the wrong people on the team or a bigger issue to address.

Here are 5 suggestions:

Don’t ignore

Conflict never goes away on it’s own. It usually only gets worse with time. In fact, conflict is a necessary aspect of a healthy team, so to avoid it keeps the team from discovering the best answers to issues and allows unhealthy tension to remain. I like to give conflict some time to work itself out among team members, but not long enough to disrupt the team’s progress or jeopardize the health of the team. When the team starts choosing team member’s sides of an issue and the conflict begins to be disruptive I know it’s time for me to address it as the leader.

Protect the vision

The vision of the organization or team should be the common ground for everyone on the team and it’s my role as leader to protect it. In times of conflict, I want to make sure everyone is still committed to that vision. I realize that some conflict develops naturally, just because of differing goals, objectives, and personalities. The leader must balance the bigger picture objectives. (Read THIS POST for more on that subject.) If the conflict involves a support of the vision or is disruptive to accomplishing the vision then addressing it becomes more serious. If the vision is fully supported, then conflict can be addressed among the individuals involved.

Talk it out

Once it is obvious issue is not resolving, as difficult as it may be, I like to bring the individuals in conflict together to discuss the matter of conflict. Make sure the conflict is clearly identified. Often there were simple misunderstandings that need clarity or viewpoints that a team member feels the need to express. At this point, don’t make the mistake of being too nice as a leader. (Read THIS POST about that subject.) Again, healthy teams and relationships involve healthy conflict and when it isn’t resolved or addressed it remains a stumbling block to the future health of the team. For this step, I like all parties to be in the same room when the conflict is discussed. Addressing an issue separately opens the door for misunderstandings and choosing sides and many times the discussion brings communication to the issue which helps solve the conflict.

Establish mutual respect

Sometimes team members have to agree to disagree if it’s not a disagreement at the vision level. The leader, at times, may have to serve as a third party mediator and should remain neutral in issues of conflict in order to maintain organizational health and keep the organization on track towards attaining it’s vision. The bottom line for me is that team members in conflict must be willing to respect each other and continue to work together, even if there isn’t complete agreement on an issue. Ask the question, “Can we move forward without this affecting the team?”

Move forward

After the issue has been addressed, the vision is secure, and mutual respect is established among team members, the leader needs to make sure the team moves forward from the conflict. There are times, especially in key leadership roles, where people can’t push past an issue and continue to work together, but most of the time conflict can make the team better, as team members learn to work together towards a common vision in spite of disagreements.

Leader, what would you add to my list?

How do you handle conflict on your team?

Have you seen times where conflict produced healthy results?

Have you seen conflict destroy a team?