On some level, we’ve all been in the spotlight and under pressure. Because we are expecting everything to go smoothly, we’re not prepared for when it doesn’t. And it’s easy for things to go downhill, and fast.
Leaders who encourage a culture of healthy conflict are preparing their team to step up in uncertain moments to ensure the best possible outcome. If your team lets problems fester, then you really need healthy conflict in your team culture.
Promoting good conflict helps prevent worse problems, and sparks greater boldness, innovation and fearlessness among your team.
Consensus isn’t everything
We don’t speak up, generally, because of fear.
“Humans fear being a fool much more than they hope to be a genius,” says William Barnett, a professor of business leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Does your team avoid rocking the boat because they are afraid? When they do not voice controversial ideas, that can lead to limited, poor strategic choices for all of you.
Case in point: when my agency represented Florida coach Billy Donovan. His NBA deal with the Orlando Magic fell apart because we didn’t have the tough conversation around questions like, “Are you ready to look the players you recruited in the eyes and tell them you are leaving for the pros? Are you prepared to walk into your athletic director’s office, who has supported you for years, and tell him ‘I’m moving on?’ Are you ready to look at the fans at Florida and say, I am going to the NBA?” By avoiding healthy conflict in the short term, the Donovan deal turned into a long-term fail for our team.
Healthy conflict is not a toxic culture that destroys your work environment. Healthy conflict is meaningful and necessary to the future success of your team goals.
But how do you rethink “harmony” and get your team to challenge the status quo in a healthy way? How do you prepare them to act wisely and fearlessly when someone “opens the wrong envelope”?
Healthy conflict is about accountability, love and trust
The courage to engage in healthy conflict is too rare. It starts with feeling safe, not threatened. A leader needs to welcome and show by example that the team is accountable. I believe a leader establishes this from a place of trust and love, just as a parent does with a child.
Conflict starts with pushing back. You hear or say “no,” or your behavior and nonverbal cues communicate that message.
Healthy conflict recognizes that the right “no” can be positive. The power of no is rooted in freedom, because it sets you up to say yes to other possibilities. As a team leader, your team needs to see you weigh short-term gain against long-term conflict and choose not to simply say yes to what others want to hear. In this way, your team knows that you want the best for them, and in that trust you can communicate clearly and effectively.
Focus on statements that start, “no, and…” This is a cue that you are leading beyond the safer choice. You’re pushing your team toward a better solution.
Healthy conflict cuts through passivity. You don’t want your team to say yes because that’s what others want to hear. “No, and…” sets a boundary and affirms your potential. It is an expression of faith that protects your time, talent and resources for your higher purpose.
When your team is afraid of healthy conflict, you end up like the end of the Oscars. Not good.
Your Game Changer Takeaway
Great teams and their leaders know that the safer choice is often costlier in the long run, especially when you act out of fear. Healthy conflict helps your team have the confidence and support to make difficult decisions, especially under pressure. Empower your team by engaging in healthy conflict.
The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company offers training and coaching programs to help leaders unleash their potential, including: Game Changer Negotiation Training, which teaches business people a framework for successful negotiating; The Energized Leader training, which teaches people how to manage their energy to achieve focus and freedom; and a monthly coaching program, Game Changer Leadership Huddles, to help members recharge their purpose and mindset. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.