I have groomed many managers into senior leaders. The most common mistake they must overcome is that they avoid conflict entirely! Sure, conflict is bad if there is disrespect. However, if everyone always agrees on everything, a mix of good and bad ideas become decisions. The leader ends up making many bad decisions. This is what we call “Groupthink” and it is dangerous!
Discomfort with conflict weakens leaders and destroys their credibility. It is the leader’s job to ensure that opinions are evaluated objectively. Someone must challenge an opinion so that its strengths and weaknesses are clarified. This sort of constructive conflict is necessary for good decisions. It is necessary for good performance.
Here are 4 practical ways to ensure constructive conflict in your team:
1. *Plan meetings with the expectation of differing opinions*. Encourage alternate views, ensure that everyone contributes to the discussion. Thank everyone for their ideas. However, keep your own comments for the end. Keep track of who does and doesn’t present alternate views in meetings.
2. *Create diversity in your team*. Try to get team members who are different in age, ethnicity, personality, gender, etc… Where possible, try to include people from outside the team.
3. *Ask careful questions to draw out information*. This is your primarily role as the leader. Phrase questions such that your team members are forced to think deeply about their views. E.g. How do we know that? Why do we think that? What are some other ways to think about this?
4. *Assign a devil’s advocate*. This person’s job should be to think of intelligent ways to disagree with the dominant opinion. E.g. What are some reasons why this will not work?
Remember, your leadership is really the sum total of your decisions. Lead on!