More about leading others

Summary: Leading others

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Managers plan, organise and control in order to achieve goals. They make sure the day-to-day tasks are getting done, and everything is operating as it should.

Leaders influence, motivate and enable others to grow and achieve goals.
They are people-focused and consider how they can utilise their team’s strengths to improve outcomes.

Leading by example, being passionate and authentic, and recognising others are key leadership skills.

Setting expectations and building accountability can be challenging, however they are crucial in maintaining a productive, motivated and aligned team. You can do this by setting clear expectations and explain why they’re important. Confirm team members understand what is expected of them and hold others – and yourself- accountable. This involves having a conversation when expectations are not met, and finding a solution to meet expectations in the future.

Empathy is being aware of other peoples’ feelings and imagining yourself in their place, experiencing their perspective and emotions. Actively listening, creating a safe and supportive space and putting yourself in their shoes are ways to demonstrate empathy.

Being courageous is an active decision. Courageous leaders have confidence in their team’s ability to make decisions and carry out their mission. They have the courage to seek feedback, be vulnerable and own their own – and the team’s – mistakes.

team brings individuals with diverse skills, passions, and backgrounds together to work toward common goals that benefit everyone.

Team dynamics refer to how various personalities, work styles, and behaviours interact. These interactions can be positive when people work well together, or they can be negative when people clash.

Characteristics that contribute to positive team dynamics include trust, communication, alignment, optimistic, supportive and the ability to capitalise on each others’ strengths.

Conflict resolution

Don’t ignore conflict or allow it to fester. Instead, address conflict promptly and directly. Encourage your team to confront conflict and develop strategies to deal with it effectively. Allow people to express issues if they have them.

At best, workplace conflict stifles communication and productivity. At its worst, tensions escalate to aggression and bullying. That’s why it’s important to address conflict quickly.

Differences between teammates actually demonstrate a diversity of strengths and ideas. Learning to bridge contrasting perspectives with empathy and understanding are key to your team’s productivity and effectiveness.

Understanding the root cause of conflict will help you take the right steps to prevent and resolve it. Know what factors can create conflict at work, and work to either prevent them from happening or accurately diagnose the problem so that you can identify the best way to resolve it.

Here are six of the most common sources of conflict and tension in the workplace.

Select the + buttons below to learn more about why the issue creates conflict, along with tips to prevent or defuse the situation.

Poor communication can quietly erode team rapport. Employees may misinterpret what another person has said or take a remark out of context. People with different communication styles may struggle to understand one another. Also, lack of communication can allow issues to fester and grow out of control.

What to do: Facilitate clear and regular team communication. Try to encourage face-to-face communication as much as possible—especially when discussing differing viewpoints or conducting meetings in which diverse (and potentially conflicting) ideas will be presented. Also, step in and mediate conversations as necessary to help “translate” messages between team members who have different communication styles.

Clashes in personalities or working styles are the second cause of conflict.

An introverted employee may get annoyed by the constant chatter of a more extroverted coworker. A team member who works best with ideas and talking about big-picture items may clash with a colleague who prefers working with numbers and details. In these situations, neither person is right or wrong; they just have different strengths, personalities, and working styles. So, what can you do about it?

What to do: Talk about differences in personalities and working styles openly. Also, regularly communicate why your team benefits from having people with diverse strengths, perspectives, and ways of doing things. And help your team celebrate the unique contributions each member brings to the table.

Conflict is also inevitable when team members have competing needs or interests. An employee may focus on achieving their personal interests, instead of focusing on the shared goals of the team or organisation. Employees may compete for resources like time, status, money, and so on.

What to do: Communicate shared team and company goals, and help your team stay aligned with them. Also, work to understand employees’ individual needs—and fulfill them. Create a culture of collaboration and abundance rather than a culture of competition and scarcity.

Another common source of conflict is different values—or what people prioritise and care about most. For example, imagine that your team is deciding on the best approach to a problem. An employee who values relationships may care most about reaching consensus and giving everyone a chance to be heard. In contrast, an employee who values efficiency may push to make a quick and effective decision—regardless if everyone’s ideas are included.

What to do: Create a culture in which all employees feel heard and valued. Facilitate discussions in which the team agrees on criteria for making decisions to help employees consider which ideas are best for the team, rather than which ideas best align with their own perspectives and personal beliefs.

Next, conflict is often a result of ambiguity in workplace roles, goals, policies, and procedures. Tensions can arise when employees aren’t clear on what’s expected of them or others. Disagreements break out if there aren’t clear procedures and policies in place to govern workplace behaviours. Also, ambiguous team or company goals can create confusion or conflict over the team’s direction and priorities.

What to do: Establish clear roles, systems, and processes for your team. Communicate shared goals, and make sure that everyone is working toward them.

Finally, performance issues can also strain team relationships and create resentment and frustration among peers. This happens when an employee consistently underperforms—and other team members are forced to pick up the slack. Or, it can happen when an employee receives negative feedback and blames others for their own shortcomings.

What to do: Don’t ignore performance issues. Address them promptly and directly. Also, encourage accountability on your team. Make it OK for team members to make mistakes, as long as they learn from them and make appropriate changes to their behaviour.

If you had to boil it down, you could say that all of the common causes of tension and conflict at work result from a single factor: differences between people. Employees are more likely to experience friction when they encounter coworkers who have radically different personalities, work styles, or communication styles. Reaching consensus is more difficult when two people are working toward different goals or evaluating ideas with different priorities in mind. Likewise, employees who have different needs or a different understanding of workplace roles and procedures may try to compete, rather than collaborate, with their teammates.

Work to reduce or eliminate conflict with the following preventive tips:

  • Define acceptable behaviour. Set clear ground rules and expectations for your team’s behaviour. Disagreeing is acceptable—insulting, bullying, excluding, or sabotaging is not.
  • Practice and train employees in active listening. Help employees develop skills in active listening so that they can navigate disagreements and overcome communication barriers effectively.
  • Align team goals. Communicate shared goals. Help individuals understand their respective roles in advancing shared goals. Remind team members of their shared mission when facing disagreements or conflict.
  • Create clarity. Create as much clarity as possible for your team. Eliminate any ambiguity regarding team roles, responsibilities, performance expectations, and team systems or processes.
  • Bring structure to team discussions. Finally, play the role of facilitator and moderator in team discussions—especially if they get heated. Model effective frameworks for navigating disagreements in team meetings and your team will absorb these tactics in their private interactions.

To help your team, build your skills in managing and resolving conflict with these tips:

  • Don’t ignore conflict. Encourage employees to proactively address conflict as the first step to resolve it.
  • Meet with parties individually before a conflict resolution meeting. You’ll gain a better understanding of each person’s perspective. It will also help you to start building trust and empathy that will facilitate open communication.
  • Set ground rules. Agree on shared conversation norms like “No interruptions.” Or, “Respect other perspectives.”
  • Take turns. Make sure everyone gets to tell their story and both sides listen and acknowledge the other’s point of view.
  • Discourage talking about personality and character traits. Challenge employees to objectively describe the issue without attacking character. The focus should be on specific behaviours, and the impact they had on them. They should use “I” statements instead of “he/she/you/they” statements as much as possible.
  • Seek underlying interests. Discover motivation with probing questions such as, “What specific actions would you like them to take?” Or, “What do you need most to resolve this issue?”
  • Don’t take sides. Be a neutral and active listener. Give equal speaking time to all parties, summarise what you hear, and then ask if you heard accurately.

Be prepared to break. If discussions get too heated, be ready to break and let both parties cool off before reconvening. You can also try changing the environment to encourage a fresh start when you return to mediation.

Activity: Resolving Conflict

Complete the scenario below to check your understanding.