Identify the Source of Conflict

More often than not our facilitators around the world begin our leadership workshops by asking some version of the following question:

“Why are you here?”

There was a time when that inquiry would be met with responses that sounded something like this:

“I’m not really sure. I came with an open mind and am here to learn anything that can help make me a better leader.”

For the most part, those days have long since passed. The overwhelming majority of the participants currently attending our programs arrive with a preset agenda that reflects their work-related priorities.

  • “Our company is in the midst of significant change that is fundamentally impacting the manner in which we work. Several key members of our team openly oppose the new direction. I need to figure out how to effectively address that resistance”
  • “I’m new to my role in management. People that were my peers not so long ago formally report to me now. I severely underestimated the difficulty associated with this transition and seek guidance on how to successfully pull it through”
  • “I lead a team that is currently behind schedule on a project of extreme importance. Simply stated, I’ve got to find a way to get things on track”

Among other things, what they find when they complete Situational Leadership® training is that they learned a “leadership language.” It is a language they can use to lead change, manage performance and enhance employee engagement. They also learned that the language of leadership is dependent upon the thoughtful consideration of the leader. Diligent diagnosis is a prerequisite for effective communication.

  • What is the specific task?
  • What is the Performance Readiness® (ability and willingness) of the follower to perform the task?

And leaders learn very early on that not all tasks are created equal! Some are relatively straightforward, such as painting a wall, articulating the benefits of a product or following a documented procedure.

Others are layered with minefields of complexity. In that regard, consider the role of the leader when the task has something to do with Managing Conflict Effectively. Conflict is inevitable when you are leading a team through change, transitioning from peer to supervisor or trying to step up performance on a project with high visibility.

If resolving the conflict is the general objective the first step leaders should take in their efforts to identify more explicit tasks is identifying the source of the conflict in question:

  • PERSONALITY OR STYLE DIFFERENCES: As is the case with approaches to leadership, there is no inherently good or bad innate tendency or work style
  • STRESS: The emotional (and sometimes physical) triggers we have for stress can serve to escalate minor disagreements into major incongruities
  • LEADERSHIP: Conflict is the perfect time for the leader to take a long, hard look in the mirror and assess whether their approach has been a style match or mismatch
  • ROLE AMBIGUITY: When conflict is present, it is a good idea to revisit the expectations around project related goals, roles, structure and procedures

There are several other sources of conflict of course, but one thing is certain: In the absence of clarity around the source of the conflict, it is difficult (if not impossible) for the leader to effectively speak the language of Situational Leadership®.


  1. Identify a recurring conflict between key members of your team.
  2. Fundamentally, what is the source of that conflict?
    1. What is a specific task (under the umbrella of that source) you can target as a leader in an effort to accelerate the development of those involved?