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A Lesson on Healthy Conflict

Post by CEO Daniel Harkavy on Mar 18, 2015

Conflict. What emotions surface when you think of this word? For most of us, our view of conflict was formed in the first decade of our lives. How we experienced conflict in our homes when we were kids can impede or aid our ability to best develop our teammates. I have worked with many leaders over the years who hate it and avoid it at all costs and with some who love it a little too much! And one thing is for sure, healthy conflict is a mandatory ingredient to make a high performing team.

Just this week, I was with two different leaders of global organizations. The first, the CEO of one of the most effective humanitarian relief organizations in the world and the other, a senior level executive responsible for the operations of one of the most admired brands in the world. Both of them wanted to explore how Building Champions could help them to build a high-performing culture.

Many leaders want to have relationships that come from leading teams in a more familial way. The real balancing act is to make sure that our thinking, vision and behaviors reflect those of a high performing team before those of a family. All of us know that some degree of dysfunction goes hand-in-hand with family. If we don’t aspire to lead a team that performs at peak levels, we will not attract and retain the talent required to grow a brand of excellence. This leads to a frustrating journey of leading a mediocre family instead of a high trust and high-performing team.

So let me bring this all back to my point.

Leaders who aspire to lead high-performing teams need to make sure that we have a healthy view of conflict. It is a necessary attribute of a high-performing team. Healthy conflict is the result of two or more humble, talented, confident and passionate professionals engaging in a conversation where they challenge the thinking and actions of one another in pursuit of helping one another to improve the decisions they make and/or how they lead. They engage in conflict out of a foundation of trust and confidence. They are willing to sharpen one another for the good of one another, the team and the organization they serve.

These conversations are always respectful, never intentionally hurtful and always done for the benefit of the other or the organization. Confident, secure and caring leaders are willing to put themselves into these temporarily uncomfortable conversations because of their healthy view of relationships. They are caring truth tellers. Please feel free to interchange the word debate for conflict if that helps you to get more comfortable with this. My partner and CEO Mentor, Jerry Baker, calls this dynamic tension. It is a required attribute of a high-performing team.

So the challenge for you is this.

Do you welcome and invite debate? Do you ask your teammates to challenge you and then when they do, listen and thank them instead of defending your thinking? True humility is required! You want to mine for as many angles or perspectives as you deem necessary in order for the best decisions to be made and then for all key leaders on the team to buy in. As my friend Patrick Lencioni says in his bestselling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “our teammates will not commit to a strategy or decision if they disagree and have not been heard.  And if their thoughts have been heard and considered, they may still not agree, but they can they commit and buy in because you have considered the necessary points before making the decision.”

Earlier I mentioned that a few leaders enjoy conflict a bit too much. Please know that I am NOT encouraging unhealthy leaders to fight, demean and bully. I am talking to healthy leaders about healthy conflict.

So please be the leader that cares enough about your brand, your team and your work to put yourself in that uncomfortable space. Model it, mine for it, encourage and reward it. High performing organizations are led by leaders who value differing perspectives and demonstrate conflict and debate as the norm.

As the Hebrew scriptures instruct, “As iron sharpens iron, may one man sharpen another,” I hope this encourages you to enter in with heart and wisdom.


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CEO Daniel Harkavy

CEO Daniel Harkavy

With more than 25 years of coaching experience, Daniel has coached thousands of business leaders to peak levels of success, performance, profitability and fulfillment. In 1996, he harnessed his passion for coaching teams and leaders and founded Building Champions, where he serves as CEO and CEO Mentor.

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