For an organization to evolve and move forward, its leaders must work together. The bigger the hurdles or goals, the higher the stakes. Unfortunately, the higher the stakes, the greater the chances of conflict tend to be, too. Board members, executives, and managers all tend to struggle in these circumstances as they try to balance teamwork with championing their own ideas.
On a recent episode of my podcast, YPO’s 10 Minute Tips From the Top, I interviewed Carl Bates, the Chief Executive of the Sirdar Group. Bates has often handled conflict in his long history of business success: serving on his first board at the age of 19, founding the Sirdar South Africa Group, and serving as a non-executive chairman and independent director of a number of companies. The author of “The Laws of Extreme Business Success” and “Traversing the Avalanche,” he speaks worldwide on topics of leadership and entrepreneurship.
Bates, a member of YPO, talked about the best way to resolve conflict within company leadership groups. Though his emphasis is on board members, his advice applies to many kinds of leadership.
1. Analyze yourself.
When people are in conflict, they feel critical of others, but fail to consider whether they might be the root cause of a problem. Simply analyzing yourself and your performance may help create resolution. Ask, “Did I take the board on a journey with me? Have I shared the information that they need? Have I presented it in a way that I can get them on board? Have I spoken to all of their challenges or questions or am I just being a little bit arrogant?” Bates reflects, “I think it’s very humbling and a very good way of just [asking], ‘What is it that I can do to shift my board with me’?”
2. Analyze the current processes in place.
“If you have a board in conflict with itself, I can just about guarantee that the members lack any sort of annual board evaluation. It’s lacking in some sort of succession planning,” says Bates. “This isn’t something that happened overnight. This is something that’s happened over a long period of time because you haven’t focused on building your board.” He also suggests, “If you are in a space of having a challenge with your board, to look at what is the process that you are running your board by that is causing that.” Poor processes will cause problems for management teams of any kind.
3. Analyze your team.
Having the wrong people on the team or in the meeting will cause a multitude of issues. So will having the wrong mix of personality or communication styles–outgoing and enthusiastic vs. quiet and reflective, etc. The right mix of energies and skills set the stage for better results. “Unless you have a balance of natural energies on the board, you don’t maximize stakeholder value or shareholder value through the board process,” notes Bates. “If you don’t understand what your natural energy is, then you will struggle to add full value in the board room.”
4. Analyze the leader-team dynamic.
Even among leaders, someone must be the “top”–the head, chair, or chief who makes the final determination on crucial decisions. Bates notes that having this person involved is essential to overcoming inevitable difficulties. “Is that person being engaged properly in the conflicts? Is that person being informed about all the details and issues on hand?”
5. Analyze the bigger picture.
When conflict arises, it is easy to get stuck on your perspective and think continuously about getting your agenda passed. “Ultimately it is key to remember that you are a part of a team and that you should think about the bigger picture, regardless of whether it completely jives with your current perspective,” he advises.