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Conflict: Leadership’s Toughest Challenge

By Doug Franklin February 17, 2014

The ability to resolve conflict in a healthy, God-honoring way is vital to being effective as a leader.  Being in leadership requires making tough calls and uncomfortable compromises.  Followers often question the decisions of a leader, and that inevitably leads to conflict.  How the leader responds in this challenging environment will define his or her ability to lead.

The goal of a leader is not to avoid conflict but to realize that when dealing with people you will always have disagreements. How you deal with conflict will either grow your leadership or damage it. Some leaders buy into the myth that conflict must be avoided at all costs because it is scary and unproductive.  The reality is that conflict cannot be avoided no matter what.  It is a necessary part of dealing with any group of humans.  When properly addressed, conflict can be positive and productive.

Leaders must face and resolve conflict with three key requirements.  First, leaders must demonstrate confidence when confronted with conflict.  Their followers will quickly sense any doubt or reluctance on the part of the leader, and lose faith in the leader’s ability to lead.  As William Wallace said in Braveheart, “People follow courage.”

A second requirement is compassion.  When conflict arises, as it surely will, great leaders remember that the enemy is not the person causing the conflict.  The real enemy is fear.  The conflict is based on people’s incomplete or inaccurate understanding of the situation or an unmet need in their lives.  Great leaders identify the cause of the conflict and resolve it with sensitivity to all parties.

A final requirement is for leaders to secure the consent or buy-in of the people involved in and affected by the conflict.  Great leaders listen to all sides of a dispute, render a fair and impartial decision, and explain the rationale for the decision to everyone.

What most conflict comes down to is someone hurting someone else. Leaders often do this without even knowing. Leaders must be quick to say, “I am sorry” and mean it. This is not saying we compromise our leadership decisions but we must understand that people are affected by our decisions. We need to be sensitive. At LeaderTreks, I use the saying, “Mission first – People always.” This statement makes it clear, we have a mission to do but God has given us people to do the mission with. So we better value both the same.


About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More