The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The birth of conflicts

By default, leaders will contribute to conflicts. It’s a given as they are part of the equation. They define expectations, they provide a direction and a vision, and they deal with existing constraints.

None of which will be exactly as the team desires them to be. It is a natural tension between the leader and his team or between the team and its leader. The leader’s task, to which everyone can contribute, is to keep the tension in a space where it creates a drive towards achieving and doesn’t stop that dynamic. Without such tension, nothing would happen.

However, it is a task that will be challenged by everyone’s beliefs and behaviors. They impact the dynamic, sometimes to an extent that the team starts to spend more time dealing with themselves than with the task. When this happens, there is a need for it as the task has changed to finding ways to readjust the existing tension to one that enables performance.

Beyond enabling performance, tension can also lead to conflicts and sometimes already is a symptom of an existing conflict.

Take for example a leader who seeks perfection without being conscious that it is driven by his anxiety of failing as a leader or with his team. Such leaders may very well be appreciated and find themselves with a team that overperforms without being conscious that they are driven by their desire to avoid disappointing their leader.

A perfectionist is easily frustrated by details that don’t happen as expected and can become negative about the future. In contrast to this, people trying to please others can be very optimistic that their efforts will be seen and hope that it leads to a positive future.

It’s a difference in approach and underlying beliefs.

But it’s also when individual behavior can become a trigger for conflict. The fear of disappointment may lead to avoiding sharing difficult news and thus leave the leader helpless to react to problems. Whereas the fear of failing as a leader may lead to trying to make everything happen and letting their frustration and fear of the future appear. If it frightens the team even more it may believe that they better solve problems on their own without sharing them with the leader.

Such a cycle can only be interrupted through awareness of the situation and one’s own contribution to it. To get to such awareness, a leader needs to learn to develop it. How one relates to a situation impacts one’s internal world as well as how one perceives one’s external world.

Without awareness of one’s internal world, it is easy to focus on how others don’t do what is expected of them. Without awareness of one’s external world, it is easy to assume that one’s own behaviors have no impact on others. The ability to connect these awareness doesn’t happen without the effort to acknowledge what is happening as a consequence of the existing relationship between leader and team. It’s an effort that will be experienced as confronting at first and easily leads to defensiveness.

But defensiveness is where conflicts emerge.


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