Is organizational conflict a good thing?

It depends, Robert E. Quinn tells us in his brilliant book on leadership, The Deep Change Field Guide.

It starts with our assumptions.  Many organizations are places of conflict.  For example, at GM’s Freemont Plant executives introduced new techniques only to see the union immediately discredit them.  The union’s response confirmed the executive’s beliefs that they lived in a world of conflict.   

Entrenched in mutual antipathy, these organizations veer toward slow death.

There is a better way.  In healthy organizations, conflict is surfaced and transcended rather than avoided.  

Yesterday, we explored what it means to enter what Robert calls the Fundamental State of Leadership. Everything changes when leaders choose to focus on purpose, integrity, connection, and learning.

The four questions to ask ourselves are:

What result do I want to create?

Am I internally directed i.e. am I values and purpose-driven?

Am I other focused?

Am I externally open?

When we make progress in one of these dimensions, we tend to move on the others as well.  Robert tells us this type of leadership is moral in nature and is based on the enactment of ethical principles rather than on politics.

“Deep change” is what Robert calls this type of real organizational transformation 

Is deep change easy to do?  Of course not.  “Many people do not know how to lead change, including people who think they already have,” he writes.

But deep change is what leadership is all about.  “Changing a culture is the leader’s responsibility and if the culture does not change the leader has failed,” Robert writes.

Where to start?

Begin with a vision.  “Change requires a vibrant organizing image,” Robert tells us.  “A leader’s task is to help people find an image that will draw them into the positive creation of their own future.”  

Pursuing an inspiring vision is a key strategy to combat slow death which is otherwise inevitable: organizations will move toward rigidity or chaos unless action is taken to the contrary.  The vision must serve the needs of clients and orient people inside the organization toward the common good and inspire them to sacrifice for it.

When we are truly committed to a new result, we change.  Our assumptions around what things are like when they are at their best (excellence) lead us to see, think and act differently.  

Our longing for a more virtuous world is a sign that a better world is possible.  


Reflection:  Ask myself: What result do I want to create?  Am I internally directed i.e. am I values and purpose-driven?  Am I other focused?  Am I externally open?

Action:  Journal about my answers.  Identify an opportunity to take action.

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