When you think back on your year in LEAD 365, do you remember the number one thing I hoped all participants would learn? If LEAD 365 alums could only be better at one thing when compared to non-alums, do you remember what I hoped that one thing would be?

My hope is that all LEAD 365 alums will lean into a situation when it seems like there might be a potential disagreement or conflict. This could be a big deal or something that may not be a big deal initially, but might grow into one if it’s ignored.

Of course, I want alums to lean in using a respectful, even loving, approach so the relationship doesn’t suffer. In fact, over time, I believe leaning into conflict in a healthy way makes relationships grow stronger!

I find leaning into healthy conflict to be difficult and, as such, it’s very easy to just not do it, or to do it poorly. Over the past year I’ve received feedback that some of our alumni don’t practice leaning into conflict. A few people who have gotten my ear have observed disagreements with an alum that went uncommunicated. While this doesn’t surprise me too much, it does pain me. You may recall me mentioning this at our most recent alumni gathering at the Switch Pyramid in October.

I believe that if we were only 20% better than we already are in this one key behavior, this alone would be enough to make West Michigan leaders unique and significantly better than the collection of leaders in any other corridor in the country. This alone would make us the Silicon Valley of leadership.

Of course if we do this using the model we taught you (which you can review here and here), it means we would also be practicing some other important leadership skills well, like listening, communicating our thoughts, and finding innovative solutions where real differences exist.

Another belief I have is that this one ability and behavior would ripple into two other stumbling blocks I believe are common for leaders. You may remember the three most common issues I have run into in my eighteen years of coaching leaders, which we highlighted in Chapter 11 of LEAD 365:

    1. The avoidance of conflict, or a toxic approach to engaging it.
    2. The lack of clarity created around purpose, vision, and values in one’s organization or department. I believe one of the reasons leaders don’t do this is that establishing that clarity, and then acting in alignment with it, would drive some difficult conversations—potential conflict—with those who aren’t aligned.
    3. Too many leaders say yes to things they should say no to, but they say yes because they can fit whatever the request is into their schedule and it’s hard to say no. Saying no can feel like conflict.

If I become confident in my ability to engage difficult conversations (ie: conflict) I will be more free to establish and live aligned to a clear, purpose, vision, and values and will also be able to say no to things that don’t align with that vision or the values.

So, based on all of this, I’m asking myself, “Am I continuing to lean in to difficult conversations when I know it’s the right thing to do, even if it will be hard?” I’m also asking you how you’re doing with this very important leadership trait.

I hope this helps you become that great leader who is willing to enter into uncomfortable but good conversations, even when it’s hard.

Thanks. Be great this week!

Image by B Rosen. Used under CC BY-ND 2.0 license.