LEAD 24/7 alums, do you recall the number one thing we wish leaders in West Michigan would do better? Yes, it’s being willing and able to lean into potential disagreements, or what we call leaning into healthy conflict.

Today’s post is the first of two on the subject. This one is to remind you why we desire this for West Michigan leaders. Next week’s post will remind you of the model itself.

Here are some reasons why we think leaning into healthy conflict is so important:

  • Many potential issues that aren’t a big deal at the time develop into big issues when they go unexplored. When they become big enough to force us to deal with them, it’s usually much uglier than when they were young.
  • It is unfair not to let someone know that something they are doing, or not doing, is holding them back, at least in their relationship with you, if not in how they interact with others.
  • When people know you are willing to share difficult perceptions with them, they come to trust you more when you tell them about the good things they are doing (which is also important to do).
  • Often, the issue that should be explored is something that will help them grow as a person and as a leader.
  • It’s also not uncommon to realize by raising the potential issue that you are the problem, or at least a significant part of it. You might never realize that unless you get it out in the open for exploration, or “interrogate reality,” as Susan Scott calls it in her book Fierce Conversations.

People who try to avoid conflict at all costs end up being ineffective, or worse yet, they have a negative impact on others and the world around them. Do you recall the Path to Low Impact shared in LEAD 24/7? It goes like this:

A Path to Low Impact

  • People avoid dealing with disagreements when at all possible.
  • Because of that, poor communication about important things leads to poor understanding of the other and of one’s self.
  • Because of poor communication, important relationships become anemic, in quantity and in quality.
  • Because of weak relationships, people find themselves lacking adequate love, encouragement, and honest challenge from friends.
  • Because of lack of real love, people become filled with fear and insecurity and are easily led to anger or apathy.
  • With lack of courage and ineffective social networks, impact in the world becomes low or even negative.

If you remember the Path to Low Impact, I hope you also remember the Path to High Impact:

A Path to High Impact

  • People readily engage in dialogue around disagreements.
  • This effective communication leads to better understanding of the other and one’s self.
  • Relationships become more trusting and robust. (Of course, sometimes, in very few cases, this honesty will strain the relationship and maybe even sever it, as some people really struggle with dealing with the truth, or at least, another’s perception of what is true.)
  • Because of strong and trusting relationships, people find themselves secure in their belonging and are open to encouragement and challenge.
  • Because of encouragement and challenge from friends, people gain greater clarity about their direction in life and have greater courage to act on that direction.
  • With greater clarity and courage, individual performance and impact becomes an ongoing journey of improvement.

If leaning into conflict in a healthy way is so important, why don’t people do it more often? My belief is that it’s clearly less about knowing how to do it well—though that is very important—and more about having the courage to just do it.

Next week I’ll refresh your memory on the process we use for leaning in when conflict may exist. But please don’t fool yourself into thinking that knowing the model will fix issues. You must use the model and actually lean into conflict if you want issues to be resolved.

I hope this week is a great one for you!

Image by Robin Hutton. Used under CC by 2.0 license.