Leadership Challenges: How to Make Conflict Useful at Work
Updated: Sep 2
FEAR OF LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES
Conflict becomes a bit of a catchall for various leadership challenges. Leaders often move to describe situations characterized by conflict to mean anything that pushes them out of their comfort zone and into discomfort. The reality is that the little feeling you get in the pit of your stomach during those uncomfortable situations isn't always a sign of the pain to come.
When we give in to those feelings, they will only grow as more and more situations arise to threaten the status quo. It is impossible to lead change without also learning to lead conflict. Soon, that little box of comfort is the only area left to hide, fear takes over, and discomfort slowly becomes the enemy. This way of life is not practical or beneficial for world-class leaders. Frankly, it isn't helpful for anyone.
START WITH HONESTY
Much of leadership starts with getting honest and understanding that discomfort isn't the enemy. Instead, discomfort is a valuable tool for understanding where your boundaries currently lie. It's an opportunity to reassess and grow toward the future. Getting honest with yourself and the people around you is the first step toward bringing healthy conflict into the workplace.
When powerlessness seeps into our lives, it brings feelings of insignificance, as if we cannot bring about any meaningful change. Pent-up emotions build resentment and silo off leaders from making actionable decisions to solve problems with others. Conflict becomes something people avoid when hopelessness begins to set in out of fear or discouragement that your actions will not matter.
The possibility of change feels so far off that we relinquish our locus of control. These feelings illuminate the importance of honesty. To solve problems, we have to recognize the role each of us plays in coming up with solutions.
Perhaps the most crucial factor in leading conflict is trust. Trust on the front end brings goodwill into the picture when conflict arises. Honesty builds trust. Likewise, trust provides the soil for honesty to flourish. Healthy accountability and constructive feedback rely heavily on these two pillars.
The tension that comes with conflict when needing to hold a teammate accountable or delivering difficult feedback is incredibly uncomfortable. However, discomfort over a situation does not equate to an undesirable outcome. Avoiding the situation and letting discontent fester actually ensures an outcome that will not resolve the issue at hand.
Building trust on the front end will accelerate your ability for effective healthy conflict. Don't avoid that nagging feeling. Lean into the discomfort. Know that accountability and feedback come from a place of leading yourself and others to our best selves. Start with honesty, and trust will grow. Honestly reflecting, delivering feedback, and building an accountability structure creates practical ways for conflict to grow in your organization.