The Crisis of Conflict at the Executive Level

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Conflict is part of everyday work life yet most of us learned how to first manage it based on our family of origin; was it avoided, harmful or was it constructive? Most of us did not take a college course in managing conflict. In our early years in the world of work, we manage conflict based on our upbringing. We begin to learn how to manage it better if the culture is one that sees it as an opportunity to build relationships and create innovative solutions. Leaders encounter conflict in many areas of corporate life especially when it comes to important decisions such as pay and performance evaluations, hiring, promotions, and an organization’s strategy.

office-conflictIndividuals as they advance to senior leadership positions develop strong, confident opinions about many things and people. The crisis is that senior leaders often encounter conflict, yet their ability to utilize conflict for a good end seriously lags. The person with more power usually wins and often with serious negative consequences. Other staff members then decide that it is foolhardy to oppose their boss’ opinion but will later talk amongst themselves, which of course damages team performance. In essence, they do not want to get their boss upset but the truth suffers. This, in turn, means they are not as committed to their boss’s edicts.

At the executive level, companies often fail because of poor strategic decisions. Most companies do strategic planning but do not do strategic thinking which is an innovative, creative process requiring management of strong, opposing points of view and “out of the box” thinking. Not being able to constructively manage these conflicting opinions means many creative, constructive ideas are not heard or seriously considered.

Another example of damage to an organization is with millennials or new hires. I have raised 3 millennials. They want to make a difference. I constantly hear that the leadership in places they work does not take their suggestions seriously. The problem is that their leaders do not know how to engage in a conversation when the new hire’s opinion sounds like they are from outer space. They have forgotten the saying: “What wisdom comes out of the mouth of babes.” These younger employees often have a fresh look; they see the spot in the rug whereas their bosses have become immune to seeing it. Understanding the need to be open to conflicting opinions is the key to developing employee engagement.

Joe is Vice President of Fitzgerald, Stevens & Ford and provides leadership development, coaching, and assessment for individuals and teams. Over the last twenty years, he has worked with individuals from a broad range of industries including technology, life sciences, research centers, and consulting. His experience also includes providing extensive transition coaching to a broad range of professionals.

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