Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
April 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Confront or Avoid?

In one of my favourite keynotes I talk to groups about the reality that leadership is all about choice. The best leaders make different choices the rest. High on my list is the choice between confrontation and avoidance. Great teams are built one situation one member at a time as good leaders commend and encourage strong work and skillfully confront performance problems as soon as they arise. If confrontation is at the heart of great leadership, as I believe it is, then why do so many leaders choose avoidance?

Picture if you will, two scales. On one we have our aversion to conflict, on the other we have our frustration with the problem. When our aversion to conflict is greater than our frustration with the problem (as it often is) we avoid. The problem is that the troublesome performance continues. Often it begins to affect others on the team. Our frustration builds until it finally overcomes our aversion to conflict and you know what happens – we blow! We react more emotionally and less skillfully than we should.

The answer then is accepting skillful creative confrontation as an essential facet of good leadership. When you can see it as an essential leadership attribute you can lower your aversion to it. For some this will not be easy. If you really don't like confrontation, this will take some discipline at first. The more you dislike it, the more you'll need that discipline to wade into the situation and do something about it.

I once heard it said, "discipline precedes habit." This is true of many of the changes we seek to make. Nothing is a habit at first, we need the discipline to work at it until it becomes one. With enough repetition and experience, that which was so difficult at first becomes much less difficult and then eventually much more ordinary, more habitual. This is where a colleague or a good executive coach can often help with the accountability and encouragement you may need in the early days of change.

Accepting the value of confrontation enables early intervention, and this provides a host of benefits. When you act quickly, as soon as performance issues arise, you are less emotional and more controlled which results in a far more constructive conversation. You catch problems before they become habits making it easier for the individual to make the required changes, and you correct the problem before it begins to affect others. You also build your team's confidence in you – they usually know about problem performers before you do and when you delay they wonder why you are not doing anything about them.

Avoidance robs you of many of the best team building opportunities. And so often it is a very private choice. Many times when you see something you know you should do something about and you avoid rather than confront, no one else will know about it. This is what make avoidance so easy, but remember all great leadership comes with creative confrontation.The ability to confront team members who are not performing is a mark of great leadership – it is how great teams are built – one member, one situation at a time.

Want to know more about how to confront skillfully, check out my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, available in soft cover and in all e-book formats.

Discussion questions:

  1. How strong is your aversion to confrontation?
  2. When was the last time you avoided a situation you should have done something about? What was the outcome?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
April 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor


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