What makes leaders great?

🕶 Last week I had the chance to ask this question to Michael Girdley, CEO of a $100 million a year holding company. Click here to listen to our podcast episode.

Most conflicts happen because of one of four reasons.

  • Different Values
  • Out of Sync Goals
  • Miscommunication
  • Personality Clashes

Let’s start with Differing values. They can turn a well-oiled machine into a clanking heap of misunderstandings. When one values innovation over caution, or vice versa, you become a canoe going in circles because everyone is paddling in opposite directions. 

Then, you’ve got out of sync goals. It’s like having people drive to different freaking destinations. 

Miscommunication. You think you’ve been clear and everyone is on the same page, but your message gets confused and this creates stress as everyone has a different understanding of the expectations.

Personality clashes can become a tug-of-war between the big picture visionaries and detail-obsessed analysts. Sparks fly, and not the good kind. Even while looking at the same picture, sometimes we see something different.

Understanding these root causes is step one. But great leaders know how to get ahead of it. 

Let’s look at what you can do.

The Art of Active Listening

Active Listening is not just about hearing, it’s about understanding what is at the heart of being said.

When your team is in the thick of it, you need to be able to feel the tension in the air and start decoding what isn’t being said. You have to look for the truth hidden between the lines by paying attention to the pauses, sighs, and body language. 

Active listening is your secret weapon and will help you turn conflict into collaboration. It shows your team you value them and you are with them in finding a solution that works for the group. 

Stop waiting for your turn to talk and start freaking engaging by asking questions, and echoing back their words. 

Show your team you are in it with them and care.

Strategies for Constructive Debates

Constructive debates are the secret sauce for breakthroughs.

Debates can get a bad rap, because they can be time consuming and can become a competition about who is right instead of a collaboration focused on finding the best idea. 

But helping your team understand how to debate is a step that is often missed.

First, set the stage. Ground rules are your best friends. Make it clear it’s about the issue, not the person. No low blows or personal digs.

Encourage diverse perspectives. The more colorful the pieces are, the richer the final picture will be. When people are talking, challenge your team to try and understand instead of planning their counter attack. 

Reward the passion! Passion shows they care. But when the heat rises, channel it. Make sure things don’t get personal and the team remembers everyone is on the same team. Keep asking, “What’s best for the team?” That’s your freaking North Star.

Navigating Emotional Undercurrents

Emotional intelligence is the gift that keeps on giving. 

Picture this: tensions are high, the team’s on edge. You sense the emotional tide rising. What’s your move? You tune in. You’re now Sherlock the emotional detective, picking up clues, reading the room. It’s about spotting the bouncing knee, the folded arms, the eyes that scream ‘I’m not okay!’

Empathy, patience, and genuine curiosity–oh my! 

Ask yourself, ‘What’s really going on with my team?’ It’s about peeling back the layers to find the root of the unrest. And when you do, everything else starts to make sense.

Acknowledge those feelings. Validate them. Because when people feel understood, the walls come down, and the bridges can start to pop up. 

Moving Forward

Leadership is about creating an environment where the fog lifts and everyone on board can see a clear path ahead. 

Great leaders know how to keep their team focused on solutions, instead of problems–the fix not the fight. 

Look for the common ground and the shared goals that are bigger than the reason the team is frustrated with each other. 

Your goal is never to erase the conflict, it’s about learning from it and growing.  It’s a big deal. Hope this reminder has been helpful.

Jacob Espinoza is a leadership coach in Salem, Oregon. For more information visit JacobEspinoza.com.

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