Three types of disastrous leadership behaviours brought to light by Politicians in the recent Brexit showdown

eu flags

Whatever you feel about the Brexit decision, most people agree that it has become a site of bitter conflict.  Indeed, many feel that leaders on both sides have aggravated the situation, accelerating it into a veritable tornado of whipped emotions, while innocent civilians are trapped like Dorothy and Toto inside the maelstrom.  In a Washington Post article, Anthony King, Professor of Politics at the University of Essex, observes that in the newly charged environment much of the political class is behaving with distinctive ‘adversarialism’. Whilst it is easy to dismiss this as a Westminster issue and not one that affects your professional role, we are all influenced and shaped by a culture that often values confrontation over diplomacy, exaggeration over honesty, and aggressive drive over reflective discussion.

In this light, consider three types of disastrous leadership behavior recently modeled by our politicians that you should really try and avoid.

The Exaggerated Fact (sometimes known as a lie)

Albert Carr’s argument in the Harvard Business Review back in the late sixties famously argued that bluffing was all part of the business game.  Competitive business activity, it suggests, is immune from the mundane moral scruples of ‘truthfulness’.  However, times have changed and whilst the art of bluffing might win you round one, sooner or later that partner, client, or colleague is going to realise you were not being entirely truthful, and feel angry, betrayed, or frustrated.  You do not have to acknowledge all your company’s difficulties, but do stay on the side of truthfulness.  You will earn respect and trust, and reduce the risk of increased conflict further down the line. Just as votes and money are only really valuable in politics if you can maintain public trust, the same applies in the workplace. Bluffing for self-interested pursuit of short-term goals tends to spiral into unforeseen and uncomfortable outcomes.

The short term win focus

Yes, we know you want to win that argument or that bid, and perhaps this requires risking a little bit of conflict. Conflict in itself is not always inherently negative, but if you don’t understand why you are in conflict and what your motivations are, then you risk getting into dangerous waters.  Ask yourself why you want to win, what exactly you are winning, and what you will do after you win.  Ask yourself how you will make peace, and create harmony if some disagreement or discomfort has been necessary. Most people understand the value of a ‘necessary’ confrontation about things that are truly important. Few sensible people understand the value of a competitive punch up for the sake of having had one.  Having a strategic conflict management plan that anticipates and manages the outcomes of any conflict that arises will have a huge positive impact on mid and long-term outcomes including team productivity and engagement.

The bad loser

Whilst Winston Churchill argued that the price of greatness is responsibility, President Teddy Roosevelt argued of perseverance in crisis, ‘Don’t foul, don’t flinch—hit the line hard’.  When you lose, and it is inevitable that sometimes you will lose, do not run for the hills. You need to stay focused and engaged emotionally as well as physically. Assess your own emotions, be reflective, talk to loved ones or trusted colleagues and do not be ashamed to share your feelings of disappointment and failure. However, neither self-flagellation nor blaming others will help here. Your team needs a strong, secure, and calm leader to reassure them and to start to look forward and assess new possibilities in the future. They do not need an angry, raging, power play of blame and backstabbing, or the sight of you grim with despair and self-loathing. This might seem self-evident, but if we look at Westminster, perhaps it is not so easy in practice. Just as you would make a conflict management plan that deals with spill over from a hard fought win, make one that considers failure. Ask yourself, how will this affect morale? What steps can I put in place to ensure that things quickly get back on track? What support do I need to be an effective leader at this difficult point, and how will I source this and make time for it? Most importantly, make this plan before you lose, not afterwards.  A helpful tip if its too late for that now: Take five minutes to consider three other points in your life in which you did not get the outcome you thought you wanted or needed. Did you survive? Did you find other ways to succeed? Take note, and as Roosevelt quipped, hit the line hard.

My name is Patrick Moulsdale and I work with leaders and groups to raise consciousness, develop teams and resolve conflict. If you would like to understand more about how I can work with your organisation, please contact me through the form at the top of this page.

Is your team affected by this morale sapping bug?

Conflict in the workplace

The first time you noticed something unusual was about 2 months ago. You came out of your office and your team were unusually quiet… staring intently at the screens, madly pressing away on their keyboards or clicking at a mouse. One team member seems to be strutting around the office nervously making jokes and trying to get people’s attention and another team member was missing, presumably in the loo or taking a coffee break… it was a bit odd, but you didn’t think too much of it and went back inside your office to continue working.

In the days and weeks afterwards, the office banter lessened. People started coming in at one minute to nine, seemingly unhappy to be at work and then leaving as soon as the clock chimed five. At times, you’d see a small huddle of people around someone’s desk and then whole groups of people leaving the office to lunch together leaving just one or two behind. Pretty soon sales targets were being missed, project schedules were getting delayed, people were calling in sick and a new phrase had started appearing in the office… “sorry – its not my job”.

Conflicts are an inevitable part of working life, but when left unmanaged – they have the capacity to tear teams and even entire organisations apart. What might start off as a spat between two individuals can quickly escalate into an unsavoury popularity contest forcing unwitting team members to take sides and so it’s important as a leader, to identify and mediate the conflict at the earliest opportunity.

But how do you go about mediating a venomous and bitter conflict? How can you bring about a successful conclusion when both parties regard the opposing one as being in the wrong, deceitful or just plain mad?

Here are a few simple pointers to help:

  1. Speak to the individuals involved and make sure they feel their feelings and needs are acknowledged and understood.
  2. Help them understand that conflict is a circular dynamic — to which both parties contribute. By understanding their own role in the conflict and the power they have to break the cycle of conflict, it can help to avoid further incidents in the future.
  3. Bring the ‘combatants’ together, to talk through their feelings and needs and also to explore why they took the path they did
  4. Look beyond the conflict at the qualities and the value each person brings to the bigger picture.

Conflicts are often born (or at least heavily fuelled) by incorrect assumptions. Perhaps something said innocently, that has been taken the wrong way or a team member taking action, which another person feels is devious or deliberately damaging to them. In no time at all, what may have been a minor initial incident (or not even an incident at all) becomes distorted beyond all recognition as emotions go into overdrive.

But it doesn’t always have to be like this. The road to conflict resolution requires self-awareness and empathy from all parties – and if as leaders, we instill these values within the very culture of our organisations – we stand a very good chance of conflict becoming a far less significant part of everyday office life.