Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Embrace The Conflict

“Unless one has considered alternatives, one has a closed mind.  This, above all, explains why effective decision-makers deliberately disregard the second major command of the textbooks on decision-making and create dissension and disagreement, rather than consensus.” (Peter F. Drucker)

Contrary to popular opinion, conflict is not the enemy of decision making, but a crucial part of the process of reaching well considered decisions with maximum buy-in by key stakeholders.  No matter how visionary, passionate or experienced a leader may be, decisions made in a conflict free environment run the risk of isolating critical and creative thinkers and compromising effective decision making.

When I speak of conflict in this context, I am not referring to destructive, personality based conflict, but constructive, ideological conflict that wrestles with issues relative to achieving a shared goal.  To engage in this type of conflict, leaders need to surround themselves with people who not only have a common vision but who bring diversity of personality and thinking to the team.  Leaders need to cultivate an environment of trust where this diversity of engagement can be safely expressed and where disagreement is embraced as a necessary part of the process.  

Unfortunately, this seems not to be the norm for the majority of teams I observe due to an innate fear of conflict.  Rather than recruit diversity of thought, some leaders prefer to retain people who only think the same as them.  While it may seem easier to advance your mission with like minded people on the front end, it comes at a cost on the back end of the decision making process.  This is something I have had to learn the hard way due to my personality type and leadership style.  As a passionate and driven leader who likes to make decisions quickly and take the shortest route to achieving a goal, I am often frustrated by process.  However, due to the coaching of great leaders who are secure enough not to be threatened by diversity and who are smart enough to value it, I have grown to resist my natural tendency to bypass process and have learned to leverage it to make more effective decisions.  In fact, the more passionate I am about an idea, the more determined I am to draw on the collective wisdom of diverse thinkers to ensure the idea is given every possibility to succeed.  So much so, that if I sense people on my team are holding back, in the words of leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni,  I will "mine for conflict" so that all views are considered to reach the best possible decision.

It concerns me deeply when leaders stack a team with "yes" people or worse, disband a team in favour of less resistance.  We seriously compromise our ability to effectively lead a team when we set ourselves up as the primary decision maker without the robust input of other leaders, which also undermines our ability to empower those who are excluded from the decision making process.  In saying that, discernment must be exercised to ensure that we are inviting the right type of conflict from the right type of people.  Patrick Lencioni talks about the importance of developing a foundation of trust in a team around shared values and vision to engage in healthy conflict to advance the mission of the organisation.  Where there is no trust and a misalignment of vision, the chances are this will create the wrong type of conflict from people who are not committed to a common goal.

Learning to embrace the conflict stimulates creative interaction within a team where ego is set aside in the interest of well considered decisions that team members are willing to commit to and be held accountable for, despite disagreement during the process.  

“Disagreement converts the plausible into the right and the right into the good decision.”  (Peter F. Drucker)

1 comment:

  1. You've been very humble here, Rob. Some wise comments. Personally, I've always loved a good conflict but, unfortunately, have not always approached it in a God-honouring way. On the same note, it is sad that many Christians view conflict as unnecessary, and this has frustrated me immensely (probably one of the reasons why I got worked up!). So many of us, growing up, were taught to avoid it, or at least had that modelled to us, but there is a time to be quiet and a time to speak. Jesus is the perfect example of one who 'caused' conflict, but did it with the right purpose and mission, hence He led others to God and challenged the thinking of those who thought they were doing the right thing.