DAILY INSIGHT: The crucial difference

By Miguel Guhlin, CIO Advisor

"Do you 'pick' your battles with staff?"

Ah, what a delightful way of avoiding the issues that can move your team forward or not. In my own work, I've found that the crucial conversations/confrontations that you have successfully move your team forward, while those you fail to have or are unaware of can stop growth. As a leader, I have "mine for conflict," a term that Patrick Lencioni introduced me to in his books. One of my favorite quotes about conversations comes from the VitalSmarts folks:

Whenever you're not getting the results you're looking for, it's likely that a crucial conversation is keeping you stuck. Whether it's a problem with poor quality, slow time-to-market, declining customer satisfaction, or a strained relationship, if you can't talk honestly, you can expect poor results.

Don't get me wrong, mining for conflict is a good way to lose a limb or get burned, unless you have a plan that works. Having been a poor conversationalist in the past, I'm grateful to the Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations books for providing a framework that works for me. What's more important is that your team members are looking to you to handle these issues. When you do, there's a collective sigh of relief. When you do not, people won't meet your eyes and they'll avoid uncomfortable topics and/or find subversive ways to get things done.

Dan Rockwell (Leadership Freak blog) points out the problem with administrators who "pick their battles" with staff:

  • Weak leaders choose manipulation over honest exchange. Wise leaders choose tough conversation over mediocrity.
  • Excellence is a function of confrontation.
  • The more uncomfortable the conversation the more important it is. The more it matters, the tougher it is.
  • Successful leaders address issues others avoid.
  • Mediocrity is the result of avoidance.

"Critical Conversations," so called because they are necessary, are perceived as tough to have (best measured by your blood pressure and the gobs of time they consume, so it's a bit of an endurance challenge. They are critical because without them, you simply can't move forward at work and/or life.

Here are some additional helpful resources:

"Presume positive intent" - lots of references to this, but check out this chapter excerpt from What Successful Principals Do!
Achieving Transformational Leadership
Our Iceberg is Melting
Scenario #1 - Confrontations that Lead to Excellence

Miguel Guhlin is director of technology for a 5A school district in Texas and past president of the statewide TCEA Technology Education Coordinators group. This blog is cross posted at Around the Corner.