Eight Leadership Mistakes: #8 – Avoiding Conflict

A recent article, Eight Mistakes Leaders Make That Kill Employee Trust, briefly discussed different management shortcomings and problems that we may unknowingly have or use, which can ruin employees’ respect for us. I wanted to address each of these mistakes and help you learn how to avoid them.

Most people hate conflict.

That’s understandable. No one wants to shout or be shouted at. Our hearts race, our blood pressure rises, and we shake from the adrenaline rush.

Except that’s not conflict. Or, it is, but it’s not the only type of conflict. But that’s the conflict we think of, and we worry we’re going to feel that same way, even when the conflict can be managed quietly and quickly. As a result, people will go out of their way to avoid conflict and won’t deal with problems as they arise.

The problem is, those problems grow and mutate until they actually do become explosive and loud, then everything gets messy and emotional. So the best way to avoid conflict is whenever an issue first arises, face it and deal with it as soon as you can.

Image of some chess pieces, a white king is tipped over signifying defeat. Conflict is not always a bad thing, so don't treat it like it's something to be avoided.I once hired a national sales manager who turned out to be subversive and was politicking for my position with the rest of my management group, as well as with the people above me.

He would fabricate and exaggerate stories about me and also himself, to the point where he had the local management group believing that my superiors were grooming him to take my place. Of course, they couldn’t go to my superiors and ask whether that was true, so they assumed it was.

Then he would tell my boss how unhappy the local management group were with my leadership, and my boss believed what he was told. It was rather clever when you think about it, because nobody talked to me about it, but they talked amongst themselves about it. They were afraid of the conflict they might encounter if they talked to anyone else about it.

The only reason I found out about it is when I noticed this guy’s performance was not where I expected it to be, so I had to let him go. That’s when all of this came out, as people told me what he had been saying to them. I checked with my superior and found out he had been hearing the same thing, so I had to hurry and clear all that up for everyone. I discovered he had created quite a mess and it took a while to clean up and restore my reputation.

It was completely unfair to the people involved, because they were presented with divided loyalties. On the one hand, they liked me and didn’t want anything bad to happen to me. But on the other, but they were afraid of saying anything to me in case I didn’t know what was being planned for me. In fact, they were no longer talking to me at all, because they figured I was going to get the chop fairly soon. They were afraid of explosive conflict so they said nothing.

The sense of relief in the organization was quite incredible once this guy had gone. it reduced the stress among my management group, and my boss was getting a more accurate picture about the work I was doing.

The interesting thing was that I didn’t know about the subversiveness; what I did see was a lack of performance, so I dealt with that. It was only the coincidental timing of firing him that saved me.

It was my willingness to face the conflict of his performance head on and deal with it immediately that saved me. If I hadn’t, the morale among my team would have deteriorated to the point that none of us were completely effective and we would have imploded.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Photo credit: Stevepb (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)