Jim was highly intelligent and cooperative. He excelled at his craft and he took pride in his work. Others liked to work with him.
Senior leadership took notice. They promoted him to management. Jim did well and he quickly progressed to middle management. As Jim progressed higher into the upper levels of management, however, his effectiveness declined. With time, Jim’s promising career stalled as his organizational area fell into chaos.
Some of his ambitious peers were secretly happy with his problems. His problems cleared the way for them to compete for the few top leadership posts in their organization. Jim saw his dreams of becoming a senior executive disappear. Over a period of ten years, the Board of Directors twice passed over Jim for the few executive appointments available. Some of his peers that he had mentored even became his boss during this period.
Everybody loved Jim so he stayed in his role. No one respected him for his leadership skills, however. His peers and the senior executives just worked around him. His managers and employees worked in chaos. His organizational area was inefficient, morale was poor, and infighting was common.
What was John’s failing? How did his progression to executive management come to an abrupt halt?
Jim’s one leadership flaw was that he hated conflict too much. In fact, he hated conflict so much that his main way of responding to conflict was to avoid it. When he could not avoid conflict, he would accommodate people by giving them what they wanted. At his core, Jim just wanted everybody to get along! He was a nice person who could adapt his style to work with anybody. He could not understand why the people around him could not get along.
Jim had the wrong attitude about conflict! Conflict is a part of the natural order of things. Baby animals struggle with each other for their share of food. Adult animals struggle for mates and territory. Naturally occurring fires spur new growth. And the list goes on!
Conflict in organizations is also a part of the natural order of things. Conflict does not have to be dysfunctional. In fact, productive conflict is necessary for organizational survival. As I explain in my book, Organizational Conflict: Get Used to It and Use It, eight reasons why managers should use conflict are to:
- hold stakeholders accountable
- improve processes
- challenge outdated thinking
- ensure continued viability
- promote innovation
- eliminate inappropriate behavior
- address unclear direction
- make the necessary tough decisions
If you hate conflict then leadership is not for you. Sometimes conflict is necessary!