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Manage Hard Times & Conflicts Effectively

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.”- Ken Kesey

Even the best leaders are bound to meet obstacles along the way. The leaders do not have it easy because their position puts them under constant public scrutiny. Every mistake is magnified; leaders sometimes feel like they are being pulled in all directions. Mistakes are inevitable because leadership is a learning process. One makes mistakes, learns from them, and rises above them.

Preparing yourself for something – hobby, career, activity, etc. is always good. Leadership is no different. In leadership, there are a few points that you must remember to prepare yourself to face the pitfalls.

One of the obstacles that leaders should avoid is the lack of focus. Leadership does not mean that you take on all the tasks or that you must know everything. As a leader, it is your job to motivate your team and streamline all activities to meet a common goal. It is your job to lead your team in the right direction. Your team will look up to you and rely on you for guidance. You can ask them to do some things independently, but it is your duty as a leader to provide them with advice. It is easy to lose sight of the goal because, as a leader, you will undertake a diverse set of tasks. Often, it is easy to lose focus during all these tasks. Leaders should never forget that before executing a task or easing an activity, they should ensure they are aligned towards the common goal.

The second obstacle is a dangerous one. Many aspiring leaders start with the promise of serving instead of being filled and putting the welfare of others ahead of theirs. But staying up there is challenging in terms of handling power. Power can get a leader drunk. Leaders enjoy privileges and prestige. You can easily sneak in your plan and put it above the whole group when you are at the top. Leaders should avoid this trap because even if it seems glamorous initially, it will eventually destroy the entire organization. When the organization crumbles, the leader usually takes the first blame. Putting yourself first in your priorities is incredibly tempting during tough times. Corrupt politicians fall into this trap. However, they do not usually enjoy a successful conclusion. There is servitude in leadership. Always put your organization and your cause above your plan.

Good leaders have hawk-like eyes when it comes to details. They ensure that all loose ends are tied and ironed out kinks. This is unquestionably a good trait, but if this goes too far, there could be a tendency for the leader to micromanage the most minor and unnecessary things. As mentioned earlier, leaders should not do all the tasks for their teams. There may be technical things that the leader or manager may not be aware of. Sometimes, a leader must let some things slide to focus on more important things. When leaders focus too much on unnecessary details, they lose sight of the bigger picture. This will also put them at risk of losing focus, which brings you back to the first problem. Leaders need to learn the essential things to know what to focus on.

Because leaders are supposed to guide the entire team, there is a notion that leaders are infallible. Sometimes, it gets to the head of leaders.

They can take it personally or refuse to recognize it whenever they make a mistake or a bad judgment call. Both reactions are not healthy because leaders can still make mistakes. Leadership is a learning process.

Not everything you initially know will apply to your context. You must adjust your judgments. Sometimes, you only realize this when you make mistakes. Mistakes should naturally be avoided, but they must be acknowledged once they are there. Leaders should accept their mistakes, learn from them, and make better decisions next time.

Leaders will meet problems that they may not have met before. Some of these problems may be slight variations of the issues they usually encounter. Others are entirely different, something to which they may not have immediate solutions. However new these problems are, leaders should always be ready to adapt to any situation for their organization’s survival. Lectures, seminars, and workshops will only get far. These will not, however, provide you with solutions to every problem. Great leaders can cope with the unpredictable circumstances that befall them. The ability to embrace change is every leader’s essential weapon in steering the organization in the right direction, even if it loses sight of its path. Leaders need common sense, creativity, and resourcefulness to

Adapt to unpredictable circumstances. Also, part of adapting to changes is to let go of ineffective mindsets. Good leaders rely on the conventional structure but know when to let go when it does not work for certain circumstances. Leaders should be critical of old and new mindsets to constantly seek better ways of doing things.

Miscommunication is another widespread problem that leaders will meet. The success of an organization heavily relies on the interaction of its members. Even the experienced ones are not spared. New leaders meet communication problems because they are still familiarizing themselves with their teams. Experienced leaders may still face communication problems when they get complacent and refuse to hear their team, thinking they already know how to manage matters.

Given the changing times and unpredictable circumstances, the surefire way to manage the dynamics of an organization is to keep communication lines open and unbiased as much as possible. Leaders should make it a point to remind their team that even if they may not always agree with all their members, they are still approachable and amenable to communicative dialogues.

Solid and respectable leadership does not mean that challenges and obstacles do not come their way. It simply means that the leader has the right skills to overcome these obstacles. It is these obstacles that decide whether the leader is deserving of the privileges and responsibilities or not.

Handling Conflicts/ Conflict Management

Open communication lines are your reliable preventive medicine and remedy in managing conflicts. Even before disputes arise, leaders must create an environment where everyone is free to express their minds most properly and respectfully. Leaders should encourage healthy discussions during meetings and even in casual conversations. This encompasses all the organization members, regardless of age, gender, race, and rank. Even if there are disagreements, respect should not be lost in discussions. Everyone should be encouraged to adjust to each other’s differences.

Encourage a healthy resolution of conflict to improve and strengthen group dynamics, enhance mutual respect, and get a better perspective of the company’s common goals. When the competition is already there, the leaders should take the first step in finding and understanding the root of the match. No harsh judgments should be passed until all sides are heard. The leaders should also emphasize that the goal of understanding the competition is to resolve it, not to make it big. All parties involved should be encouraged to set their sights toward resolution, not a more significant battle.

In conflict resolution, leaders should be cautious about playing the blame game. They can do this by separating the person from the problem. A person may cause a problem, but this does not give anyone (not even the leader) the right to accuse the person of being the problem. Leaders that can separate issues from people will avoid making permanent relationship damages.

Listening is a primary part of conflict resolution. The leader must understand where each side is coming from. They must be given the right to defend their position without offending the other party. In the process, the leader must ease in setting the facts straight. Objectivity is needed from the leader as a facilitator. At the same time, they must hear out the interests of each side. This will give a better view of why the parties involved are taking such sides.

Once all the sides are voiced out, the leader should combine all the information presented and clarify all the facts presented to everyone. No resolution can be formed if not everyone agrees on the points. Summarize the statements of each side and explain their sentiments.

Once everyone has agreed on the problem, everyone can brainstorm for workable solutions. Leaders should remember that there are diverse ways of solving a problem. Most of the time, all parties involved must compromise to meet halfway. Sometimes the other party’s stand must be unpopular, especially if that stand steps on anyone. Some solutions give all the parties what they want without the risk of another conflict. Leaders have their styles of solving disputes. Some leaders try to avoid conflict altogether, while there are people that face the problem head-on to put an end to it. Whatever style, it must also adjust to the problem at hand.

When the resolution has been negotiated, the leader and the parties involved must produce ways to prevent the conflict from happening in the future. This should also build stronger relationships among colleagues.

Leaders should not fear conflict, as it can present opportunities for reassessing goals and strengthening relationships. If the leader is armed with good conflict management skills, it should not be a harmful source of tension.

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