Advanced education, democratisation and technological change are driving global socio-cultural changes and new business structures and aspirations which require of leaders and organisations that they are at once more agile and more collaborative in their tasks as leaders. Leadership education however often reflects the old world models of top-down influencing, rather than leaders who work through engagement to create a web of diverse leadership capabilities around them.
Surprisingly, however, there is relatively little information on the leader’s role in relationship to conflict and negotiation. Ideal leadership is worryingly being seen as something where either the leader experiences no prolonged disputes (except for wartime or competitive entrepreneurship) or deals with conflict immediately so there is no problem. We would argue against either of those viewpoints: challenges, in particular conflict and tough negotiation, when handled appropriately, are beneficial to an organisation, and integral to most leadership scenarios.
By not embracing challenges leaders’ conceptions of their roles are fundamentally flawed, and expectations of leadership unrealistic. Organisations may seek to minimise or suppress healthy conflict in favour of deference to ‘groupthink’, in the interest of dominant but flawed leadership visions. There are suggestions that the Financial Crisis was the result of an overreliance on ‘yes-men’ assuring leaders that all was fine and that businesses needed to act in a manner which can now be seen as reckless, whilst suppressing the opinions of those who advised caution. In reducing conflict and creating a culture of ‘single’-mindedness, these leaders ended up allowing their institutions to fail.
Challenges come in all forms, from discussion over strategy or implementation (often in cross-functional working) to a hostile takeover or litigation. There is also a major change in the sort of cultural conflicts that arise, as younger working generations develop differing views on priorities than previous generations. The rise of communications technology also increases the risk for organsations to have to face rapid crises affecting operations or organisational reputation. All of these are potential areas for conflict and will require refined or new skills for the leader including the ability to make difficult decisions and manage conflict.
Leaders of the future need defined skills to meet new challenges
A leader will need to have skills to guide themselves whilst leading others and directing an organisation. We have identified 6 main competencies that a leader (within a business context) will need.
Collaborating (as peers and within the organisation)
Capabilities for leaders of projects and organisational management on how to implement the principles of collaboration in order to work together meaningfully
Negotiating (with internal and external clients)
As a leader of an organisation/department/ team or project improve and maximise existing skills and strategies by exploring, developing and reflecting on the principles and practice of negotiation.
Mediating others (amongst peers and as a leader)
As a leader of an organisation/department/ team or project help your peers or team members resolve their conflicts and to become a role model, finding a way to combine the roles of a mediator and manager.
Preventing (on an organisational level)
Raising awareness of conflicts within dysfunctional teams and the entire organisation and enabling employees to have crucial conversations with the final goal to implement a constructive conflict and feedback culture within the organisation.
Surfacing (on a team and organisational level)
Capability to go to the root cause of issues and dysfunctions and to bring them to the surface in order to develop sustainable change strategies towards a healthy conflict culture.
Managing crisis (on an organisational level)
Given the entrenched positions and strong emotions surrounding many corporate confrontations – tapestry of capabilities as a leader to navigate the organisation through adversity on to a new chapter, by making well informed decisions, being resilient and empathetic and setting priorities.