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The best leaders embrace conflict to create change

They also value heart and strength


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(Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Todd's book, “Never Kick A Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be.” This is the second of a three-part series. Read Part One.)

Mantra # 3: Effective Leaders Embrace Conflict to Create Change

Conflict is one of the topics with which CEOs most often struggle. Unfortunately, the prevalent mindset is that you should minimize it. That is wrong—you should optimize it. Let me explain.

I recently gathered a group of executives together to discuss organizational conflict. Early in the conversation, I asked them to rate the level of conflict in their organization on a specific scale. On one end of the continuum was a high level of conflict both in frequency and veracity, with personal attacks as commonplace. On the other end of the scale was conflict avoidance where everyone was “nice,” but important issues were completely ignored. In the middle was optimal conflict, where people were comfortable speaking their mind, differing opinions were explored with focus on the issue rather than individuals, and the arguments were evidence based. Most every executive rated their organization as being firmly on the conflict avoidance side of the scale.

If there is too much conflict in your organization, you will not have productive conversations. People will worry more about winning the argument than moving the business ahead. In extreme situations—usually the result of a highly combative CEO—there are two possible scenarios. The first is the company is full of aggressive people who care much more about their personal gain than the success of the team. The second scenario is that the company chews through talented people who won’t allow the abuse, and is therefore left with very weak players. If there is too little conflict, the end result is the same: business suffers. Good ideas are not surfaced and silly behavior is tolerated because no one wants to hurt feelings.

Organizations with too much conflict or too little conflict often have the following characteristics:

  • Confusing organizational design and/or authority limits
  • Objectives, strategy and vision not clear
  • Values not clearly stated
  • Lack of trust
  • Unwillingness to hold others accountable
  • Hallway reversals allowed (lack of commitment)
  • Some bad apples on the team
  • CEO not modeling the correct behavior
  • Misaligned rewards

Remember, the objective is not to minimize conflict, but rather to optimize it!

Real Lesson: You, as CEO, must be comfortable with healthy conflict and optimize it in your company.

Mantra # 4: Fantastic Leaders Value Heart And Strength

CEO’s are supposed to be infallible, but in reality they are human, and when they keep emotions bottled up, the consequences can be substantial. Effective executives are not only courageous and forceful, but they are also vulnerable and demonstrate that they have big hearts. They are always confident, but not always certain. In fact, the most fantastic leaders in the world care deeply for those that they lead. They trade open door policies for open ear practices, always willing to listen to, and support their team. They find time to dive into the lives of their colleagues, and are willing to build relationships based on a genuine and authentic care for team member’s personal and professional concerns.

Strong executives may be collaborative, but they’re decisive. They may be kind, but they don’t avoid tough decisions. They likely understand and support pushing decisions to the lowest effective level, but they insist on great execution at that level. They don’t need to control all the details, but they insist on high performance.

Real Lesson: You can learn to be strong, as long as you are not afraid to show vulnerability and ask for help. Strength and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive!

These are the 3rd and 4th of 7 mantras. Tune in next week for numbers 5, 6, and 7!

 

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