When your staff is venting to you about conflicts they are having with colleagues, what do you do? Intervene and defend the other person’s actions, offer suggestions for resolution or get involved and offer assistance? That is the role of a leader right; the problem solver? If so, how is that working for you? Not so good? That’s what I thought.
Strong leaders are clear about their role and do not insert themselves into other people’s relationship challenges. They do not provide solutions, which may seem counterintuitive, rather they remain neutral and ask who, what, when, where and how questions with the strategic intent of understanding the broader scope of the aforementioned conflict.
Leaders understand that challenges are made up of contributing factors and recognize how assigning blame closes the door to people examining how they too participate in the conflict, as well as efforts for resolution. The concept is to not solve the immediate issue but lead those involved to resolve the core of the conflicts themselves. Without this, the immediate problem may be solved by a dictated solution, but the issue will only fester again. The second approach allows employees to own their responsibility in the relationship conflict as well as their efforts of working at problem solving the solutions themselves. They then own the solution.
Leaders set the cultural tone of an organization, in part, by holding themselves and their staff, to high standards of accountability and maturity. They will therefore not resolve the relationship challenges of others rather they will coach their employees in the direction of gaining clarity about the issues and ways in which they can responsibly work towards resolution. This is a far more empowering approach. Leaders promote individuality and foster trusting collegial relationships while encouraging direct communication with one another, even when the subject matter is challenging. These efforts not only lay the groundwork for a healthy work environment, they also foster professional growth and development for all members of the organization.
Now reflect on your own leadership style and how you handle conflict. Are you a problem solver or do you encourage your team to solve the problem themselves? What tone you are you setting for your organization?