Conflict and complexity are not going away. So what can we do to handle the messy challenges, competing opinions and thorny dilemmas that face us as leaders at work, in our communities and around the world?
CCL’s John McGuire says the way forward is to “move beyond us versus them and create genuine win-win options. We need to look at the challenges and integrate multiple right answers if we are going to find innovative, best-for-all solutions.”
McGuire, co-author of Transforming Your Leadership Culture, argues that to do this leaders need new mindsets — mindsets that value genuine collaboration and creativity.
“Collaboration moves beyond compromise in which everyone loses something in hopes of gaining a little,” he explains. “Collaborative work uses dialogue, not debate, to deeply understand the problems we face.”
Closely related to collaboration is a creative process that combines and integrates perspectives into something new. Creative, collaborative leadership isn’t for just a few “innovators” or R&D or marketing teams. Creativity is an attitude of learning in the moment, paying attention and telling the truth about root causes. “Only with creativity will we find sustainable solutions to the complex problems our institutions, businesses and communities are experiencing,” says McGuire.
But to collaborate and create effectively, we need to make a deep commitment to building trust, interdependence and shared leadership. McGuire challenges leaders to make five resolutions for 2011:
- Resolve to stop arguing and start talking. Forget about who’s right and who’s wrong. You’re probably both a little right and some wrong. Problems need to be solved; big paradoxical dilemmas need to be sorted out and looked after. Instead of pushing your agenda or arguing your point, slow down. Ask questions. Listen so that you understand and learn. The challenge you face will start to look different and more options will emerge.
- Resolve to stop blaming. Leave behind fault-finding. Instead, focus on outcome-building. Create a no-blame zone. In this zone there can be no “us versus them” because we are them. Be part of the solution and you won’t have the time or space to blame someone else.
- Resolve to stop fighting for resources. Taking what you can, when you can, because you can is no way to lead (and no way to live). Think of ways “your” resources could be used to benefit others. Consider “your” budget as the company’s budget or the community’s budget or the students’ budget.
- Resolve to take responsibility for shared success. All of you — on the leadership team, on the project team, in the department — need to take 100 percent responsibility for all outcomes. Sure, building something together is harder than claiming individual success. But leaders and organizations need to broaden their view to include the success of clients and customers, suppliers and employees, local neighbors and global communities. Stop throwing others under the bus or just looking out for your own.
- Resolve to grow bigger minds. Until you challenge your current thinking, aspirations and leadership approach, you will be blocked. You will continue to look at everything as a problem to be solved — when some things are paradoxes to be managed. Leaders have to outgrow habits and conventional thinking if we are to successfully meet the grizzly challenges that face us every day.
“Leadership in complex, uncertain times isn’t for the faint-of-heart, the know-it-all or the do-it-yourselfer,” says McGuire. “But with resolve and fortitude, you can expand your mindset and tackle the hard work of collaborative, creative leadership.”