Recently, I was invited to explore with a community of mediators, the impact of power and rank dynamics in conflict.
It’s not just mediators who need to have a sharp eye on power and rank differences, but managers, HR and conflict management practitioners who support individuals to engage in challenging conversations and negotiations.
It was a sad tragedy to see the death of Curtis Cheng a father and husband who was simply doing his job when a lone gunman targeted the NSW Police headquarters in Parramatta. It was shocking to think that Farhad Jabar a 15 year old schoolboy was capable of this act. Footage of his classmates arriving at school, following the attack, brought his youth home in a sobering way.
When a community is assaulted in this way and our sense of safety is challenged we face critical choices about how we respond to both the event and the fear and grief it evokes within us. Pondering this question, reminded me of a piece I'd written on a recent extended stay in Provence, Outrage in the wake of this year's terrorist attack was still palpable. Given this latest tragedy - I share it now.....
Leaving our local baker Phillipe’s store each morning, arms laden with croissants and tarts, I walked past a simple handwritten sign his window “Je suis Charlie.”
Shocked from their malaise, thousands of French citizens took to the streets earlier this year, responding to the murder of the editor and staff of Charlie Hebdo and many others who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As my partner, Jean-Marc, is French, we followed events closely and frequently dicussed the issue with family and friends over the days that followed. For the French it was both a tragic and a mobilising time. United in the cry “Je suis Charlie” French citizens felt a sense of fraternity many described as exhilarating. Finding their voice, they were able to reconnect with the sense of defiance and power that in 1789 earnt the French populace its liberty.
Have you ever complained that your staff aren’t strategic enough? Have you ever wondered why those who report to you seem slow to see the bigger picture or unable to cut through the minutiae and constant operational demands?
People in positions of power tend to be goal oriented. Research confirms that people with high power demonstrate greater initiative than individuals with low power, attempting multiple courses of action to realise their goals. They persist in their efforts to achieve their goals even in the face of obstacles. Empowered individuals tend to address obstacles and challenges directly.
Observing this we might conclude that individuals who have more structural or social power, have earned their position and its associated power because they are more committed, intelligent or resourceful. Makes sense, right?
Have you ever given or received an apology that had a powerful and transformative impact? Of late we've been working with organisations committed to making full and wholehearted apologies.
A heartfelt apology can be relieving for all concerned. Acknowledging mistakes and wrongdoings supports healing and the restoration of relationships. When Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised in 2008 to Australian Aboriginals and members of the stolen generation, for the forced removal of children from their families and culture, his words held significance for the whole nation. Rudd spoke at the time about ‘removing a stain from the nation’s soul’.
The apology to the stolen generation was a long time coming - far too long. The trauma of many individuals and their families was prolonged by a lack of acknowledgement of their suffering. Events such as this and the mixed messages sent by many institutions in response to allegations of child sex abuse have been painful to witness.
No leader wants to be regarded as out of touch with the issues affecting their workforce. Similarly no politician wants to be viewed as out of sync with their electorate. They’d rather be seen as having their finger on the pulse.
Yet leadership has an insulating effect. It can narrow one’s focus and dims one’s judgement to a point where those around us are left shaking their head, wondering what we were thinking.
The repeated booing of AFL footballer and former Australian of the year, Adam Goodes, shines the light on racism in Australia. While his treatment has been trivialised by some it is blatantly disproportionate to the treatment metered out to other players.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has come out strongly saying that football fan’s behaviour constitutes racism. He has called on other leaders to stop mincing their words and recognise the issue for what it is.
When a group of people enter into a retreat with the intention of learning about themselves and the art of leadership, there’s no telling what will happen.
It’s an adventure in which we sign up to discover whatever we need to learn next. So for each of us the learnings derived from the Resilient Leadership Retreat were slightly different. The journey was made richer by entering into new and unexplored terrain together. When we teetered at edges or doubted ourselves, there was someone ready to witness our transition, encouraging our growth.
What I’d like to share now are not the formal elements of the program, but those incidental learnings that daily life together in Provence taught us. Some of these principles may seem obvious. It’s the power of experiential learning that really brings them to life. However, I hope they touch those times in you, when you connected deeply with what works:
Did you know that research indicates 30-50% of a manager's time is spent averting or addressing conflict?!
When working with conflict, we adopt a coaching approach. We’ve worked with scores of organisations to introduce conflict management coaching for early intervention and escalated conflict. We’ve now trained over 1500 leaders, HR managers and practitioners in this approach.
If there is anything to be learnt from the spate of recent political leadership challenges it’s that leaders need to listen more to those around them. Even when it’s not what they want to hear. In fact especially then!
Leaders must learn to open up to feedback, from their colleagues, constituents and other key stakeholders if they hope to win respect and survive in their roles.
For those schooled in heroic leadership, this is a dramatic turnaround. For them the ability to withstand and overcome opposition has long been regarded as the mark of a strong leader.
The New Year naturally lends itself to thoughts of what you want for the year and possibly years ahead.
When we know what we want to achieve, our course of action becomes much clearer as do our priorities.