Should conflict management not be a key skill of a leader?

A recent article in The Telegraph [05/12/2013] explored the skills that successful leaders need by putting Jobs Editor, Alan Tovey, though a virtual assessment day to measure his ability to cut it at the top. The piece notes how there are four qualities that a leader should possess: experience, knowledge, personality and skills. While these are crucial to lead a team, perhaps being an effective conflict manager could be added to this list to create the complete manager.

During his virtual assessment Mr Tovey was thrown into a  business environment and had numerous managerial challenges set for him including solving personal conflicts and navigating office politics. It is noted how soft-skills are the hardest trait for a leader to acquire, but with the right training they can be added to the business leaders tool kit. A heavy-handed approach to conflict can have the effect of pushing problems under the table and causing them to arise at a later date with, potentially, drastic consequences. While conversely, a boss that is a pushover will invariably let the most vocal party come out on top, causing imbalance and others to question their authority. CEDR believes that the key position to take is to negotiate collaboratively to ensure that relationships are preserved and business continues to flourish.

A leader should be able to collaborate with both sides in a dispute in order to negotiate a resolution that is accepted by all. Earlier this year we at CEDR surveyed over 2,000 members of the public through an online questionnaire in order to investigate ways in which problems that come about through collaboration can be solved. The results highlight the importance of a leader that is able to discuss and resolve conflicts in a diplomatic manner. Candidates were asked what the most significant reason for teamwork breaking down was. Respondents noted that teams failed primarily due to a “lack of communication” (36%) or a “lack of leadership” (32%).

The Telegraph article notes how it can be lonely at the top with managers having to solve problems single-handedly. Conflicts can be successfully resolved through conversation and this is highlighted by our survey results which reveal that 82% of respondents consider face-to-face meetings to be by far the most important method of a successful collaboration. As conflicts in the work place inevitably arise from time to time, we personally work better with a leader that commands respect through experience and knowledge and possesses soft skills to ensure that conflicts are solved effectively. In a conflict situation a leader should be a figure of capable authority that is able to analyse the issue to reach a successful outcome. As Winston Churchill put it “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”.

Dr Karl Mackie CBE, Chief Executive of CEDR, will be speaking on the subject of leadership and conflict on 12 February 2014. More information.

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