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Enter the Change Agent, Part III: Conflict and Renewal

July 22, 2014
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You are the protagonist in this story, but there is a dark side to management. You can’t reach and reason with everyone. Nobody welcomes conflict, but sometimes it is inevitable. Accept this and prepare. Everything you have done thus far has led up to these final acts of change.

You have been sheep dogging the herd and conditioning the workforce. You are isolating negative influences and providing a positive alternative to the existing structure both creating and filling a power vacuum. Maintain good relations with the majority while you maneuver. Regularly brief higher authorities of your assessments and activities.

Gauge your adversaries. People are remarkably clever; never underestimate them. Recognize that nobody is more dangerous than when they feel their authority is threatened or their misdeeds exposed. Plan how to take them on one at a time. Some may only need subtle suggestion, while others require stronger measures. If executed properly you may only need to do this once or twice. Word will spread. The rest may fall in line or even convert.

Remember that education is not an indication of character or ability. A person can have all the technical expertise in the world, but if they are reviled, they are ineffectual. I have known MBAs, engineers and master black belts that were impotent because they exuded condescension. They liked the sound of their own voice too much and did more talking than listening. Nobody takes people like this seriously. Arrogance and hubris thinly veils insecurity. This gives you an advantage. If possible, remove such people. If not, be resolute and circumspect in dealing with them. They will come to know that you see right through them.

You might also find peers are part of the problem. They may just be weak. If so, support and improve them. They could also be petulant, letting their egos rule their actions. Because of a lack of training or maturity, their application of discipline devolves to cruelty. Degradation is the only way for them to maintain authority. Attempt to refine their views and management techniques. Teach them to understand their people and apply other approaches. Be firm with them and stand by your convictions. Respect their rank, but let it be known that you will tolerate no excesses. This is a form of the classic “threat in being." You can make them realize that it is better to be your friend than your enemy. Also, if you begin to succeed where others have failed, be prepared for jealousy and attempt to alleviate it by sharing the laurels.

Play to people’s strengths and enhance them. Don’t expect them to see everything your way. Imagine responses to different situations and decide when to implement or intercede. Prepare for disputes to arise, compromise on trivial issues, and save your clout for substantial matters. No waffling or equivocating. No half measures. Seek resolution. Don’t leave disputes to fester. Be sparing with praise and punishment, or they will lose their impact. The same holds true with anger.

Change is a tool used to set things in motion. Consider outcomes. Take advantage of the confusion. Patience, presence of mind and clarity during transformation is critical.

Move people to different areas. Mix up groups, separate people from their allies or powerbase. Throw them off their footing. To some, work is their only social contact and outlet. It is very important to them that they maintain their status. Understanding this motivation is important.

Correct disproportionate workload. Often good workers get more work piled on them to compensate for the laziness or inability of others. Be mindful that dependence on the few also creates over-empowerment and a sense of entitlement. Train others to a suitable level, as this will engender greater operational flexibility.

If you know how, it is comparatively easy to transfer emotion to the floor. Calmness, tension and urgency can all be palatable. The inverse is also true; you can feel conflict coming. Try to diffuse the situation and de-escalate when possible.

There is a time and a place for determined action. Be reasonable, consistent and confident in your authority. You always have discipline to fall back on. If they don’t get it, write them up. If necessary, write em’ up again, and always explain exactly why.

A negative leader, formal or informal, may be compelled to challenge you as he or she feels your influence growing. They are playing to a crowd. Recall your study of personality types. At this point you may know more about a person and their actions then they know themselves. You’ve met someone like this before. How did you deal with it then? How would you change your tactics? Try one last time to connect with them or, at least, co-exist. If this fails, be on alert.

When you sense impending confrontation, be alone with your antagonist whenever possible. Be wise and deploy your plan. Close the door, privacy is preferred, only the two of you know what is said and how. There are of course, exceptions where an HR, management, or other presence is required. Also, document everything.

However, if someone doesn’t accord you the respect of privacy, becomes hostile and confronts you in front of a group, don’t hesitate. Pull the trigger; send them home and write them up for insubordination, or suspend them pending termination. Never allow yourself to be intimidated. Stand up to the playground bully. This is the grand gesture, the tipping point. In a moment, you can either achieve victory or ignominy.

I am often asked about the moment of confrontation. There is a time lapse very similar to a car crash. Seconds seem longer. You have time to think.

Control your anger. It is easy to be mean. I can recall instances where I went off the reservation, shouting with clenched fists and squared shoulders. That was what I was sent to do, but they were hollow victories. Don’t trade one dictator for another. Win because you are protecting the weak, creating a resilient, cooperative culture, and an atmosphere for success. Not because you can yell louder. When the smoke clears, take stock, heal wounds and move forward.
 

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