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Leading Through Team Tension

By Tammy Grabowski | May 1, 2024
Leading Through Team Tension

Navigating the complexities of team conflict is an essential skill on the journey to becoming a successful leader. Every seasoned leader knows that while conflict cannot always be avoided, it has the potential to be a catalyst for growth if managed correctly. Leadership is not just about guiding a team when the seas are calm—it’s also about steering the ship through storms.

Effective Leaders Leverage Team Conflict for Growth

​When conflict arises, the natural tendency for many leaders is to shy away, hoping that time alone will resolve it. This approach may seem attractive in the short term, but it can allow underlying issues to fester, potentially harming the team’s cohesion and performance. An effective leader recognizes the importance of addressing conflict head-on. The objective isn’t to assign blame but to understand the perspectives involved and work collaboratively toward a solution.

A leader’s goal should be twofold: to manage the conflict by keeping it from becoming destructive while also working toward a resolution that satisfies the fundamental concerns of the parties involved. For this to occur, a foundation of trust and mutual respect is essential. Building on the John C. Maxwell philosophy of valuing people and relationships, this foundation begins by connecting with each team member and securing their permission to lead.

An authentic leader enters the conflict resolution process with a listening ear and an empathetic heart. This requires prioritizing the relationship over the argument and focusing on the problem without making it personal. Leadership requires engaging in robust and respectful discourse, leaving room for healthy disagreements that spark innovation and improvement. A key skill here is curiosity—asking questions to gain understanding rather than simply making statements that assert a position.

Upon reaching a resolution, the leader’s work is not finished. Follow-up is crucial to ensure the actions agreed upon are being taken and the issue isn’t re-emerging in different forms. Regular check-ins can help reaffirm that the solutions are sustainable and the team environment remains healthy.

Understanding that leaders have a considerable influence on their team’s culture, they must embody the values they seek to instill. When leaders oversee conflict with grace and fairness, they send an explicit message: that the team culture values open communication, collaboration, and respect—even in disagreement. Managing conflict effectively enhances a leader’s credibility and reinforces the idea that challenges, while inevitable, can be overcome together.

Conflict resolution is not about victory but about finding a path forward that strengthens the team. The true test of leadership lies not only in celebrating joint successes but also in turning conflicts into learning experiences. It’s a narrative of continuously growing together, improving team dynamics, and understanding that conflict, when managed healthily, can lead to a stronger, more resilient team.

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