“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” ~ William James
As a leader, you are in the people business. It’s a huge mistake to ever define your leadership based on the function of your organization. You are not the leader of a Sales Department or a Manufacturing Plant or an Information Technology company, you are the leader of People. People carry out the function of the organization. The truth is: there are a lot more gray areas in leading people than there are in managing the black and white world of data, machines and technology. People are much more complex, and complexity causes tension. Anytime you have tension, you’re being stretched.
In order to function at their best, people must have healthy relationships with their fellow team members. Great leaders work hard at helping their team build healthy relationships. It may seem counterintuitive, but conflict is actually a very natural and even necessary component of building healthy relationships. How you as a leader handle conflict on your team and within your organization will determine whether or not the tension will benefit you or hurt you.
In the early days of the church, there was for the first time in history a blending of Jewish and Gentile customs and traditions. Everyone was being stretched. The tension and conflict became apparent to Peter and as a leader, he had to address it.
…when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said. Then Peter told them exactly what had happened…When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. (from Acts 11:1-18 NLT)
In this passage you’ll notice that Peter was very approachable. He listened and then he carefully responded with patience to the objections of the team members. Peter understood how committed this group was to seeing the church grow. The more passion and purpose people share, the more tension the leader will have to manage. To manage tension well you must lead with humility, character, competence and patience. It’s your responsibility to keep your team focused on their common goal.
Committed people work through conflict, uncommitted people don’t. The best teams are made up of diverse personalities, talents and perspectives committed to a common passion and unified purpose. How we lead through the tension and conflict that arises out of these differences will determine whether or not people on our team will become better or bitter.
Great leaders understand that tension is good and that it stretches their team like an athlete stretches their muscles to make them stronger and faster. Whether you are leading your team at work or your family at home, don’t avoid conflict or tension. Be aware of conflict today and lead well through it. Everyone will grow through the experience and be better because of it.