Effective leadership in conflict management requires honesty. This might sound like motherhood and piety; however, the news from Enron to Tyco to WorldCom gives us great pause. Without commitment to total honesty, candor, and openness, no attempt to manage organizational conflict will succeed. Figure 7-1 lists additional roadblocks that prevent effective conflict management.
Roadblocks to Effective Conflict Management
Many leaders have encountered the following roadblocks during their efforts to improve their organization's or team's conflict-resolution skills. How many are operative in your environment?
The Dependency Story
A surprising number of executives still adhere to the leadership story that "theirs is not to reason why; it's up to the leader to do or die." Such leaders must redefine their role and change the going-in story that they and they alone have the power and accountability to resolve issues.
Managing by Tantrum
Public displays of rage prompt people to go underground . People look at targets of such rage and project, "This could be happening to me." Any hope the leader ever had of getting honest opinions and feedback from them is effectively killed .
One Style Fits All
It is easy for a leader to manage by whatever leadership style he or she feels is most comfortable. But effective leaders match their style ”directing, coaching, collaborating, or delegating ”to the learning curve of their employees .
No one would argue with a focus on business results. But raising the question, "How well are we doing?" should not stop with the financials. It should also encompass accountabilities and alignment. Do senior executives see themselves accountable for the whole "game," rather than only for their function? Is the organization aligned level to level, cross-functionally, and interfunctionally? Dysfunctional conflict tends to erupt where there is a lack of alignment.
Pat Parenty, senior vice president and general manager of Redken, U.S.A., sums it up well:
When you make promises, you must deliver on them or explain why you can't. You can't say to your team, "I want you guys to be honest with each other," and then not be honest with them, not put the issues on the table, whether they're good, bad, or indifferent. You also have to share with the team members all the facts they will need in order to make the right decision. If there are sacred cows or taboo areas and you don't tell them, they may make a decision that will get you all in trouble. You must trust them with confidential information; if you can't do that, you have no business asking them to take responsibility. You must give honest feedback, no matter how painful it may be. And, most of all, when you tell your team that you want them to be totally honest with you, you must mean it.