The Reality of Conflict

Everyone is a little bit scared of conflict.

Even the bravest, outfitted with a personality that fights instead of flights when completely transparent do not enjoy conflict. Sure, it may be a given that conflict can and will happen (even within the healthiest teams), but no one truly likes conflict. These types of leaders know that conflict is a regular part of leadership, but if they are honest it keeps them up at night and they wish it was someone else’s problem to solve.

Others hear the word “conflict” and want to melt into a puddle and somehow escape the room. For them, harmony is what matters most. So they will internalize, minimize, dilute or completely avoid it.  These types of leaders will eventually have to quit running from their fear if they ever want to break through to the next level of leadership and impact.

So whether your one that tolerates or is terrified of conflict, we can all agree that it is icky, keeps us up at night and we wish it was someone else’s problem.

The Reality of Leadership

What separates good leaders from great leaders is not just the ability to navigate conflict, but they actually initiate it.

A key component of leadership is bringing a group of people from one place to the next; it is wrestling with the reality of the present, and being able to bring this organization/group of people to the desired future. It is about seeing where things need to go and the ability to strategically bring them there – winsomely and intentionally.

To add to this, the default trajectory of any team is not toward progress but comfort. The senior leader(s) must always be providing clarity, championing the future and wisely driving the team towards it.

It is clear that great leaders know that conflict is not to be simply tolerated, but initiated.

So when should this happen? I see three key situations where you need to initiate conflict.

3 Situations where you need to initiate conflict

1. When the mission has stalled out

Stalling out is not a fun place to be. No one wants to be the person on the side of the road with their hood up, smoke billowing out of the engine, waiting for help. Unfortunately, this is where some of our churches are.

Stalling out means that the dashboard metrics have plateaued and the morale on the team is waning. It means that people have lost interest and your mission is an afterthought to most people – even the ones on your staff. Simply put, people have forgotten and don’t really care anymore.

I get it. It can be easy to put your leadership in neutral. In fact, sometimes it is the most attractive thing to do. But it simply can’t happen. As we all know but don’t want to admit: “I am the lid.” Instead of being passive, we need to step up and initiate conflict.

The enemy of progress (and leadership) is passivity. When a leader starts to idle and disengages, the march towards the desired future stalls out. Not only does this affect the team, but ultimately the mission of the church. This is the time when conflict should not just be avoided but initiated.

Difficult conversations need to happen at all levels of the team – no one is untouchable.

Remember, the mission matters.

2. When you know there is more

Good leaders are only able to see what is happening now. Great leaders are always striving for more; more from themselves and more from their team.

These types of great leaders have been influential in my life. These were the people that God put into my life, at the right time, to speak encouragement to me, but also to challenge me to be more. They could see something I wasn’t: a future me that is closer to Jesus, more reliant on His Word, more engaged in the mission and more aware of how God could use me. Without those leaders I am not sure where I would be.

It’s pretty simple: change doesn’t happen unless conflict happens. There has to be a moment where you sit someone down and cast vision for their lives that they don’t see. To lean in on areas of concern or to shed light on a blind spot they are not seeing. This isn’t just the role of leaders and mentors, but a command given to the body of Christ as we are in community together.

3. When you know there is unsettled conflict on your team

Working in a church is difficult as we navigate being “brothers and sisters in Christ” as well as co-workers, bosses, team leaders and direct supervisors. These titles confuse and complicate relationships. Situations are not cut and dry as we feel internally the tension of being the family of God together, and the potential occasion where you could be fired!

Yet every team experiences conflict. The myth is that because we all love Jesus that we won’t bump into each other. If you don’t work in a church and buy into this idea, you couldn’t be more wrong! As the team grows bigger, as ministries are deployed out from your leadership, it is inevitable that people will expect too much, work too little, over promise, under-deliver and will let each other down.

A great leader understands this and does whatever she can to weed it out of the team. Good leaders buy into the lie that a minor conflict won’t cause a major rift. Great leaders understand that this unhealthy pattern in their team must be curbed. Over time unsettled conflicts eats away at the foundation of trust in the team.

So what can you do? At least once a year, you need to provide space for your team to purge – to get things off their chest. Of course, you hope that conflict is dealt with immediately and interpersonally, but often it doesn’t.

Our Lead Pastor and I provide this opportunity. Believe me, it is awkward and strange. Yet, we want to model that conflict is normal, Jesus forgives and the unity and health of our team matters. After a while, the team will understand this is an important mechanism as it uproots the toxic unsettled conflict on your team.

If you know that this happening, it may be time for you to set up a meeting and combat the cancer of unsettled conflict.

It’s time for action

So where do you need to initiate conflict today?

Has your mission stalled out? Is there unresolved conflict on your team? Can you identify a leader right now who needs a crucial conversation?

Today is the day where you take action: pick up the phone or schedule a meeting.

You’ll be glad you did.

So will the people you lead.