May 30, 2007
Leadership offers key to positive work atmosphere
Two of my key staff members are at each other, way too often, and their tensions are hurting morale and productivity. What's the best way, as the boss, to help them "get over" their issues and perform more effectively? Losing either one is not acceptable, but something has to change, soon.
One of my mentors, Dr. L. J. Fletcher, often repeated this statement: "There is no substitute for the truth." And, what he meant about truth started with what we need to see in the mirror: ourselves, our own motives and words alongside behaviors. Relationships - whether as personal as marriage or as financially critical as those on the job - depend upon honesty, clarity and integrity.
How relationships come apart is as varied as the individuals themselves. Investing energy identifying the root cause can lead to time-consuming searches along pathways that frequently generate more heat than light.
When trust is broken, for just about any reason, the building blocks for communication and teamwork are at risk.
When one or both of the parties involved feels diminished, the drive to regain recognition, respect and power will kick in.
When the human spirit is injured, the protective armor of pride is placed over the not-so-obvious wounds, and light skirmishes can morph into bloody battles. The anger that follows is expressed in terms of challenges to authority, resentment, "the silent treatment" or even resistance to dealing with the other person, unless there are absolutely no alternatives.
A perceptive boss will make sure key people "fix" interpersonal problems. Some basic steps to consider include:
- Clarify the mutual value of each party, separately and then together, to underscore the importance of immediate constructive conflict resolution.
- Inform participants that you are not a referee, but rather a supervisor, and that their counter-productive behaviors are doing harm to the enterprise.
- Assuming you are in a position to do so, warn them that if they do not resolve their differences, in a timely and appropriate way, you will be forced to replace them both.
- Reset the strained working partnership by reminding the adversaries (past, present or future) that relationships are both complex and always in need of integrity-centered behaviors such as attention, careful listening and mutual support.
Integrity in relationships begins with courageous and focused leadership, at home and at work. It also demands consistent communication of the mission to all stakeholders.