Showing up in conflict – a great chance to lead self and others! Reply

We can change the world if we start listening to one another. Simple, honest, human conversation. . . . Simple, truthful conversations where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well (Wheatley, 2006, p. 8).

By Eileen Larkin

ImageI recently took part in a one day workshop on conflict management. Given the opportunity to reflect on conflict situations by open sharing and learning, it was clear to me evidence of leadership capabilities of the LEADS framework was prolific.  For me, it all started with April’s story. This one stood out for me as a clear example of leadership demonstrating capabilities in the Lead Self, Engage Others, and Achieve Results domains. As a Royal Roads graduate in the Masters of Arts in leadership in health, my reflective mind was bubbling with leadership excitement as I listened to April share her conflict story.  It started when April’s colleague John approached her for an opinion.

April works in a fast paced healthcare environment doing front line work delivering services to patients. One day John asked her for her opinion on an issue. As April listened to John and reflected, she followed with the opinion. To April’s surprise John responded by rolling his eyes, and shaking his head. Through a number of non-verbal cues it was clear as she shared the story that April was feeling completely dismissed and disrespected regarding the opinion she shared with John on the issue. As April continued to reflect on what had happened, she shared with the group her feelings and internal churn she felt given John’s reaction.  It was clear to me she was feeling conflicted about how her solicited opinion was so negatively received. As a result she elected to have a conversation with John.

True to the LEADS framework April opted to act by leading self, engaging others and achieving results bridging capabilities that fall within each of those domains.  Central capabilities to the lead self domain include deep personal awareness of one’s own emotions, principles, values and assumptions. This domain also stresses the need for leaders to seek out opportunities to challenge oneself through personal learning and character building opportunities. April’s character building began as she moved through this conflict with the courage to speak directly with John on how his reaction felt for her.  She reminded him he had approached her for an opinion, and she offered him genuine feedback on how she felt about the issue. She then fed back to him her observations on his non-verbal clues that led her to feel disrespected in the process. Until that point John was unaware he was telling on himself without saying a word. Given the opportunity to review the situation openly and reflect with April, John became very humble and he apologized.  The awkward feeling April had when he was present went away and so did the conflict.

LEADs framework capabilities within the engage others domains are also demonstrated within this context through factors like social intelligence, being able to understand and manage others, and challenging others on a personal level to grow.  Based on the reaction John had to his conversation with April, he was given an opportunity to self-reflect and become personally aware of his actions. Before April exercised the courage to have this discussion, John did not see how he was showing up. April’s demonstrated leadership in engaging in this discussion provided the space for both her and John to personally grow as leaders within this engage others frame.

Arguably this example of leading through conflict also touches on the achieve results domain and in particular the capabilities of identifying clear expectations and outcomes. Through discussion April advised John she anticipated he would be open to hearing her opinion and with that she did not anticipate the judgment that followed through his reaction. In sharing her final reflections on this conflict scenario, April provided that the working relationship with John holds a newfound respect. As evidenced by how John now reacts to April in their work setting, he is thankful to her for having the courage to engage in dialogue and lead through this conflict.

A leading leadership theorist Daniel Goleman (2002) holds that leadership is largely present through consciously exercising emotion as a primal way to influence and motivate. Emotions run high in conflict. Whether we are referring to leading self or leading others a significant contributor to our success is directly impacted by what lies within.   Engaging in dialogue is a fundamental way to resolve conflict. Communicating through the tough times is very well depicted in the work of Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler (2002) in their top selling book Crucial Conversations Tools for talking when the stakes are high. It is a great read and true pause for reflection and provides some great tools on facilitating our own personal leadership and how we show up in conflict.  Challenge yourself – pick up a copy and enjoy the read!

Eileen Larkin is a Royal Roads Leadership graduate and active leadership practitioner. A baccalaureate prepared Registered Nurse, with high acuity clinical, corporate healthcare, and entrepreneurial experience; Eileen holds a strong background in health in a variety of settings. Having completed her Masters Degree in leadership with an emphasis in health in October 2010, she is now working in a provincial role spearheading change management initiatives with Health PEI. 


Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership: Learning to lead with emotional intelligence. Boston: Harvard business School Press.

Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wheatley, M. (2006). Leadership in the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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