The Beauty of Conflict

August 17th, 2012 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on The Beauty of Conflict

Conflict is good. Without it, there would be no change. Many of the peacemakers we’ve come to know throughout history engaged in conflict. Gandhi relentlessly opposed British rule. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought the injustices of inequality, and Abraham Lincoln worked tirelessly for the abolishment of slavery. Without their willingness to engage in conflict, it’s doubtful that these men of peace would have succeeded in their accomplishments. True leaders understand the value and impact of conflict. But an accomplished leader understands that conflict must flow in both directions. It cannot merely be that the CEO, President, or company leaders are comfortable engaging in conflict. It must go further than that. They must be comfortable and encouraging of the teams that they lead to engage in conflict as well. In other words, a leader must be willing to be challenged, to encourage disagreement in order to move the team forward.

Out of conflict, and out of that tension comes a creativity, a problem solving capacity, that cannot be achieved otherwise. Creating a work environment where people feel comfortable to challenge the status quo, and most importantly, to feel like the outcome of their challenge will not always result in a losing effort, is key to a winning organization. A great leader is not afraid of conflict, and not afraid of losing a challenge. A great leader is focused on outcomes, and whether those outcomes are born from their own ideas or are the brainchild of someone else is inconsequential. Power does not create positive outcomes, but conflict can. It’s easy to want to create a team of like-minded individuals, with similar styles and personalities, all walking lock-step according to the same vision. While this may create what appears to be a very compatible and comfortable team; it won’t necessarily generate the results that bring a company into the realm of excellence. Conflict creates excellence, and those who are willing to surround themselves with those who think bold, think different, and will sometimes challenge them – they are our true leaders. So the question then, is what kind of leader are you? Do you need to be right, or do you need to do what is right? Margaret Hefferman gives a nice talk on this (see video below), showing how disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates how the best partners are not echo chambers — and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree. She is the former CEO of 5 businesses and writes extensively (and with clarity) about getting along while disagreeing. Enjoy.