This is my very subjective series on how to become a good leader. Everything I write serves as a reminder for myself and to give you an opportunity to reflect about your own leadership. It is probably good to start with the first part where I speak about the importance of crafting your leadership vision.
This time I want to speak about the importance of handling conflict and your role as a leader in those situations.
What is the reason you want to be a leader? If it is because other people will look up to you or you want to create an atmosphere in which you can be friends with everyone, think again.
When we look at great teams, we often see a strong connection between the individuals. We see a harmonious group that performs at its best. What we cannot see are those times when there is conflict. And every great team has had a myriad of conflicts. One of the tasks of a leader is to mediate those conflicts. At times even provoke them. Maybe you have heard about Tuckman’s stages of group development. One of those stages is called “storming”. This is a phase filled with conflict. And it is essential to the development of a group. In this stage you lay the groundwork for how people will deal with conflict later on.
Sure, you can try to stifle all upcoming conflicts right away in order to maintain harmony, but this would be too shortsightedly. When conflicts are not addressed, they will lead to resentment and resignation. Only if people can voice their opinions and feelings you make sure that they feel acknowledged. That is why it can be a good idea to provoke a conflict. BUT. And this is a big but, you as a leader need to be careful and be able to debrief and mediate those situations so the team comes out stronger. As this takes practice, maybe think about asking someone who is specialized in team buildings.
For you as a leader the goal must be that your team has a strong bond between each individual and that there is an open-minded and honest culture, so that conflicts can be addressed. This, in turn, also means that you as a leader cannot expect to always be loved by everyone. You will have to take a lot of blame and be fine with it. You need to make decisions that will make others mad at you. You need to decide what is best for the team and not for you.
I had such a situation during one conference. One of the facilitators wasn’t happy with how I handled a certain situation. He also made a suggestion what he would have done differently (by the way I like that). However, his suggestions would have led to problems and resentment within the facilitator team. My decision “only” led him to being angry with me. That is also what I told him in this talk. I rather have it that he is angry with me than the group is angry at each other.
I mean one of my values is harmony. And I really don’t like the feeling when someone is mad at me. But when it comes to the role of a leader, this doesn’t matter. I have to be okay with those decisions.
At the moment, I watch the documentation about last year’s season of the football team Manchester City. I watch it mainly because of their manager Pep Guardiola. I think when you are so successful over a long period of time, you also need to be very good at leading a team. During one of the episodes he tells his players that they can criticize him, or they can be mad or angry with him. He also said that he feels that some of his players perform better when they are angry with him. Now this is not an invitation or even encouragement to make your team member angry, but he knows about the potential conflicts can have and he openly speaks about them.
If you cannot deal with conflict. Work on it. I had to do this myself. It is not easy, but if you want to lead others, you need to be okay with conflicts. Moreover, what I wrote here in this article might be just the tip of the iceberg. If you have questions how to deal with conflicts, or how to come up with a team building that can help to reveal some of the conflicts in your team, let me know.
In the next article you can read more about the importance of knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
Take care, Stephan