Category: transformation

5 Do’s & Don’ts for Dealing with Conflict in the Workplace

The past few weeks have been busy and even hectic at times.  I had a lot of travel, especially week before last, including a week-long trip to the west coast, so getting ready for that added a bit of “crazy” to my already crazy schedule.

There’s just a lot going on right now for me and sometimes, when my schedule gets like this, it seems like there is always a conflict or two to deal with, on top of the busyness.  This week was no exception.  I spent at least the equivalent of an entire day either addressing a conflict or dealing with the aftermath of conflicts that had not been handled well.  So, I’ve had a lot of time this week to reflect on conflicts in the workplace and unfortunately, I had to spend some of that time working on remedies to create positive outcomes for conflict that was mishandled.

Conflict in the workplace is actually common.  When you think about it, we spend a great deal of time at work and in professional, working relationships with a lot of people from a lot of diverse backgrounds.  Any time groups of people spend a lot of time together, the possibility for conflict exists.  Family reunions, social gatherings, or competitive events are great examples — especially when creativity and strong emotions, like passion for a common purpose are present.

I believe the most effective and highly productive teams are made up of innovative and creative people who each bring different strengths and experiences to the team’s collaboration, and who are often very passionate about the work they do.  These kinds of team dynamics can produce amazing results, but at the same time, they may also breed conflict.  As leaders, we have to understand two things:

  • Conflict in and of itself is not “bad”; and
  • How we deal or don’t deal, with conflict can make or break a team.

I say that conflict is not bad in and of itself because often the reason for the conflict is an important issue that needs to be addressed and many times dealing with the underlying root cause of the conflict can help teams correct critical problems and create a better strategy, result, or product.  The conflict then is not bad, IF it is dealt with and the process for resolution is handled appropriately.  When we ignore problems or conflicts, they fester, and without attention, they often destroy teams, hinder success and harm the organization systemically

I have spent more than two decades leading a variety of teams.  In that time, I have dealt with too many problems, issues, and conflicts among various teams to even name.  I have also developed a list of Do’s and Don’ts that I want to share in hopes that they will help new or seasoned leaders.  Even after studying leadership theory endlessly and with more than 25 years of practical leadership experience under my belt, I still make a mess of conflict sometimes.  Seasoned leaders need reminders of good practices and new ideas on dealing with common situations too.

Here then are the Leading to Make a Difference Do’s & Don’ts for Addressing Conflict in the Workplace, in hopes that they may help leaders reading this blog, or even just help one leader, deal with conflict in the workplace.

 Do’s & Don’ts for Addressing Conflict in the Workplace:

  • Don’t let problems fester (this one can nip conflict in the bud!).
    • DO address problems and situations quickly and directly.

  • Don’t make snap judgments or take “sides.”
    • DO explore all the facts and listen to the “sides” and make informed decisions.

  • Don’t let the conversation go in any direction and keep it constructive by not allowing the use of inflammatory words, language, or physical pretense.
    • DO set boundaries that include mutual respect from everyone and to everyone, and actively listen to the constructive dialogue of all involved parties.

  • Don’t think one conversation, or that just talking it out, will “fix” everything.
    • DO develop a resolution and plan that establishes accountability for the involved parties and stick to the plan!

  • Don’t have performance management conversations with team members who have behaved badly in front of other team members.
    • DO address bad or incorrect behaviors with team members who have behaved inappropriately in private.

Dealing with conflict within a team or within the workplace is one of the hardest things that any leader will ever have to do.  Not dealing with problems, or letting issues and workplace conflicts fester and grow, may be the worst thing any leader could ever do.  Leaders who lead to make a difference understand the importance of handling conflict in the workplace before it does irreparable damage to the team and/or the organization.

Lead Boldly;

Lead Courageously;

Lead to Make a Difference!

Authentically yours,




Old Ways Won’t Open New Doors

A couple of weeks ago, my executive leadership team and I spent all day together at a strategic planning session.  Our goal was to assess our team’s work and achievements over the past year and start to develop our strategic goals and objectives to set our course for the future.  As we talked about all the things we had accomplished over the past year, we were excited!  It was clear that we have a team of hard workers who are passionate about what they do and eager to make a difference in the lives of our students.

Over the past 1 ¾ years, we have made significant changes in the way we think about how we serve students and in the way, we approach supporting our students’ success.  As a result, our student success team has been in a constant state of transformation.  That’s a cool word for change, and unfortunately, change can be scary.

I am privileged to work with a group of outstanding leaders — our leadership team, we call it the Guiding Team – is committed to doing whatever it takes to create student success services that move us ever closer to our shared vision of:

Meeting students where they are;
Empowering them to see what their future can be; and
Helping them achieve their goals for a better tomorrow.

I strongly believe that fearing change is the enemy of success, but I also know that apprehension about the unknown is normal and natural.  Leading through change — creating true and lasting transformation — requires change agents — and all leaders are not change agents.  Being a change agent is difficult; many leaders can stay the course when the journey is along a familiar path, but those same good leaders find it challenging or even impossible to successfully navigate the way when the route is unknown or littered with obstacles.

When I met with my guiding team for our planning session, I gave them each a gift — a photo that I had taken of a beautiful afternoon in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Burnsville, NC.  The photo was captioned with this well-known leadership quote:

“If your actions inspire other to dream more,
learn more, do more, and become more,
you are a Leader.”
~John Quincy Adams

I wanted to thank them for the work they have already done in leading our division.  I also wanted to inspire them to keep moving forward, because we know that we are not done — in fact, we discussed how we will never ever be done.  If there are students to serve, we are a leadership team committed to transformation.  We don’t want to be in a constant state of change just for the sake of change, but we recognize that change is a constant of life.  If you are moving forward, you are changing; if you are not changing, you are falling behind.

We cannot afford to fall behind because we have students to serve.  We share a passion for harnessing the power of education to change lives by helping our students navigate their way forward to a better future.  We also share a belief that old ways won’t open new doors.  In today’s higher education landscape, that belief is the impetus behind our steadfast journey of transformation.  Everything in the 21st century world of community college education is changing; expectations for higher education are not the same today as they were even 5 or 10 years ago.  The old ways of delivering instruction and providing instructional support for students won’t open new doors of opportunity and possibility today.

We cannot merely “build it and they will come,” and our mission is much more than merely a focus on providing access to higher education for populations of students who may not otherwise have a postsecondary option.  We must reach out proactively to engage with our students in meaningful ways.  We must build relationships with them that help them not only understand how to access educational opportunity, but also how to be successful in their programs of study.  Additionally, today’s public sentiment of accountability is pushing us to do more than just help them succeed in their coursework; we are increasingly being pushed to ensure we are graduating students who will be successfully employed in jobs with sustainable, livable wages.

So, we don’t have time to fear change; change is coming whether we are ready for it or not.  As leaders who must assume the role of change agents, we must accept responsibility for steering our teams through innovative, data-informed transformation.  I have faith in my guiding team, their senior leadership teams, and all our team members — I know they are up for this challenge.  I also know that we will continue to face obstacles that will threaten to derail our change efforts.

As the division’s leader, it is my responsibility to lead us around, over, under, or through each and every barrier; to keep us moving forward as we build new ways to open new doors that advance access, success, and post-completion employment.  To that end, I have developed four guiding principles for leading transformational change.

Number One:  Be Intentionally Prepared.  Good leadership doesn’t just happen.  Anyone can be charged with leading, but not everyone is a good leader.  While I believe many great leaders possess natural talents and characteristics that help them be better leaders, I also believe that transformational leaders understand that they are not born with all-encompassing knowledge and their gut instincts and natural intuition is not always enough.  When it comes to transformational leadership, you cannot just “wing it.”  Successful leaders spend time studying and learning how to lead.  They study leadership theory; they read case studies to learn what has worked and what has not worked in other similar situations; they stay current in their respective fields; they intentionally prepare themselves to create transformation.

Number Two:  Be an Active Listener.  Just having the title Leader, doesn’t mean you know everything (also, many people who don’t have the title are the best leaders — but that is a topic for another blog and another day).  Great leaders and leaders who successfully lead transformational, lasting, and systemic change, understand the importance of listening to their team members, and more importantly, they know how to actively listen.  Active listening means you don’t just hear what someone is telling you, but rather you fully concentrate on who you are listening to and on understanding what they are saying.  Active listeners focus on building trust, demonstrating genuine concern for what they are hearing, and affirming that they understand.  This can be tricky for leaders.  Actively listening does not mean you should agree or act on everything that you hear; it does mean that you have a responsibility to your listener to take time to understand and to offer them honest feedback about what you can or will do with what they are telling you.  That leads us to the next principle . . . Be transparent.

Number Three:  Be Transparent.  I believe that being transparent is one of the most important characteristics for any leader because trust is a critical component of any relationship.  I believe that great leaders understand that they will never build trust if they are not willing to be transparent with those they are charged with leading.  I know that leaders cannot openly share everything — personnel matters are obviously private and any organization has confidential matters that cannot be openly shared.  However, in my opinion, top-down leadership structures all too often use a need for “confidentiality” as a cop-out, and a means for not directly and honestly, facing a difficult issue head-on.  As a change agent leader, you must be direct.  If, after actively listening to a team member’s idea, you know, for whatever reason, that you will not be able to do what they have proposed, tell them.  Don’t lead them to believe you will consider it if you won’t and don’t stay silent.  Be transparent — tell them the truth — and tell them why.

Number Four:  Be Willing to Take Risks.  The final guiding principle for leading transformational change is to be willing to take risks.  Transformational leaders are rarely risk-adverse.  They understand that the “safe” path is not always the path that will lead to innovation and transformation.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you throw all caution to the wind by acting careless or foolish.  What I am suggesting, is that change agents understand how to weigh the benefits and the risks, and take reasoned risks if the results to be achieved will substantially move the needle towards necessary change.  As we continue to transform our student success services, we will take data-informed risks as warranted to improve student success — our ability to make a positive difference for our students’ futures is worth the right risk.

It is hard to step out of our comfort zone; it’s much easier to maintain the status quo by doing what we know and what makes us comfortable.  But, if we stay in our comfort zone and keep doing what we have always done, we miss great opportunities for new experiences and new possibilities.

Transformational leaders are never content with the status quo — instead they are constantly striving to inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.  They encourage us to take paths that we had never imagined and they challenge us to open ourselves up to whole new worlds of possibilities.

Transformational leaders are bold; they are courageous; and they lead to make a difference.

After all, they understand the importance of opening new doors to new possibilities and they know that . . . Old Ways Won’t Open New Doors.

Authentically yours,