I would argue that the most consistent skill that can make you or break you in any industry is your ability to work through conflict. In today’s market success hinges on your ability to work through conflict. Thsoe who fear it will avoid confrontation at all cost. While others are energized by it and therefore seek it out. Neither of these are the winning camps.
Although I might argue the benefits of a leader that generates a little conflict among their team, this conversation is centered around our natural tendencies toward or away from conflict. Whether you find yourself in the former or that latter category, your willingness and ability to work through conflict is the very thing that can hold you back or propel you forward. The direction is entirely up to you.
I believe every person CAN lead well through conflict by embracing the value of confrontation, the gift of collaboration and the price of humility.
The Value of Confrontation
Last week I was sitting in a meeting with a member of my team. As we talked through some different ideas regarding our Preschool ministry and how we engage kids in our weekly Storytime I found myself getting more and more energized as we challenged each other’s thoughts. It was an open dialog with agreements and disagreements. I was challenged to think differently in some areas and more resolved in my stance in other areas.
My days are filled with conversations like this. And I’m grateful for them. They make me a better leader and they keep the ministry moving forward. But I remember a day when I would avoid these conversations. I didn’t want to be challenged in my thoughts and ideas. I received them as personal digs on my ability or dissent of my vision. I had this warped sense that if I was placed in charge then I should divinely have all the answers. It wasn’t that I believed no one else should contribute ideas. But that mine (of all of them) should not be dismissed. If they were…. then what was I good for? It wasn’t that I thought everyone should agree with me. I just didn’t want them to tell me!
Needless to say, this is a poor way to lead a team. And I paid dearly for it. I could give multiple examples of conflict avoidance over the past decade. The longer I avoided conflict within my team, the more trust eroded. It’s like skating on thin ice. The ice will finally give and everyone standing on it gets soaked.
The thing that never changes about hard conversations is that they’re hard. Plain and simple. I don’t think they ever cease to be hard. Whether you’re pitching and idea, producing a solution or offering up guidance we’re relatively attached to our own thoughts. We like them. Which is why we present them. To have them shot down or dismissed can sting. But you can get accustomed to the sting over time. In fact, I believe you can learn to embrace the sting.
Because the benefit of confrontation far outweighs the negatives. When people are free to express their thoughts in the safety of a collaborative environment you get more contributions. When you have more thoughts contributed you find better solutions. When you find better solutions the teamwork mentality increases. The momentum you gain is like a drug… and you can’t get enough of it.
Here’s a great exercise. Ask yourself this question…
What stops me from embracing confrontation?
Take a minute and write out the words, phrases/thoughts that come to mind. Don’t attempt to structure. Just write. This is strictly for your benefit. When the thoughts stop you stop. Then put it away for 24 hours. At the end of 24 hours, pull out that piece of paper and read it again. Look for common themes/words.
Then ask yourself this question…
What could happen if I embrace confrontation?
Again, scribble out your thoughts. Single words or complete phrases… doesn’t matter. Just write. When you’re done compare the two pages.
As you lead over time your team will reflect your leadership. Which page do want to be the testimony of your team?