I have yet to meet a leader who is not impacted by conflict. We all experience it as it is a reality of leadership and life. Conflict can be one of our greatest enemies to personal health and self-care. For this blog entry I am including an article I have written about some of my recent learning’s in the area of conflict. This article was written for Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog. Its written more as a leadership article than a self-care article, but I thought it might help to stimulate some thoughts, conversations and prayers as we think about the impact conflict can have on us as leaders.
What I have learned about conflict in the past year…
Conflict is a reality of life and is always a significant part of leadership. I can count on the presence of conflict, but I have also come to count on learning a lot from conflict as a leader a Christ-follower and as a person. Here are the three most significant things I have learned about conflict.
I am not as good at conflict as think I am:
It is always easy to overestimate your abilities and effectiveness as a leader, but I think this is especially the case when it comes to our ability to handle conflict. I don’t like conflict, and I cannot seem to think of anyone who genuinely does. Our human nature is to resist or avoid things that are difficult. There are many reasons I have over evaluated myself when it comes to conflict. I tend to prefer to deal with conflict in a direct, honest and authentic way. I have never done well with mixed messages or passive-aggressive behavior and found it is not the way to address conflict as leaders or as Christ-followers. I have been passionate about the passage in Matthew 18 where Jesus discusses conflict for longer than I remember and while that has proven helpful to me and the organizations I have lead and served, I think an arrogance or defensiveness could be built around that. The reality is that the church and Christians are not known for doing conflict well, and being surrounded by people who do poorly with conflict has created an arrogance in me that has prevented me from continuing to learn to be better at conflict. A recent leadership class with Scott Cormode was the final eye-opening piece for me as I was able to confess that I am not as good at this as I would like. While I deal with conflict, I often neglect the adaptive change issues around conflict.
Taking conflict personally may cause you to miss out on some of God’s redeeming work:
The more grace becomes personal for us, the less everything else will feel or become personal in our lives. Criticism and conflict are hard. Being a leader means that we have to face criticism and conflict on a regular and sometimes daily basis. We all have weaknesses and I have often argued we all have one weakness that can plague us if we do not identify, manage and address it. For me, that is insecurity. I have always struggled with insecurity and it’s something I continue to fight. While I have made much progress, if I do not pay attention, it can quickly come back with a vengeance (much like those 10 pounds I lost). One of the challenges of wrestling with some level of insecurity is that conflict can often feel very personal. It is very easy for me to take conflict personally, not only because of my insecurity, but also because I care deeply about people and I have high expectations of myself. The problem with taking conflict personally (even if you are the primary cause/source of it) is you are tempted dwell in that aspect of the conflict instead of looking for where God might want to redeem the conflict. I believe God wants to redeem all things, the good, bad and ugly. In the midst of every conflict, God offers many wonderful redemptive moments, opportunity and truths that can transform both the conflict and those impacted. When we take conflict personal, we can become blind to these redemptive opportunities.
The fear of conflict can be a dangerous for leaders:
It is unnatural to enjoy conflict. It is certainly normal to dislike, have anxiety about or fear conflict. I know I can easily become anxious about conflict. The problems with the fear of conflict are far too many for this article, but the operation out of a fear of conflict is one of the greatest leadership dangers existing outside of issues of morality and integrity. When we fear conflict, we make decisions based out of conflict avoidance. When we have a high fear of conflict, we tend to avoid difficult issues, challenges, needed change, accountability and many other things that God has for us and the organizations we serve. When we operate out of a fear of conflict as leaders, our ministries are often shaped by opinions, feelings, circumstances and fear instead of being rooted in a theological perspective focused on Christ and submissive to the Holy Spirit.
Conflict is a reality of life, relationships, leadership, ministry and most certainly the church. We do not have to perfect our approach to conflict, but we must continue to learn in the midst of conflict, not just about the situation or what God might have for us, but also how we can grow in our own approach to and understanding of conflict as leaders.