It is no secret that strong leaders don’t shy away from conflict. Actually, the best leaders go a step further by creating healthy conflict … for themselves and their team members. As counterintuitive as it sounds, these conflict-embracing leaders make their professional lives more challenging on purpose.
We all possess a neurobiological drive that propels us toward people like ourselves. Simply put, we unconsciously tend to enjoy being with people who think like we think and like what we like. When you apply this social truth to a team, however, this basic neurobiological force can compromise effective decision-making and significantly impact success.
We recently worked with a leader who was frustrated by his team’s inability to generate creative and innovative strategies to respond to critical new market pressures. The team was highly competent and extremely committed to the organization’s success, but it desperately needed to challenge the status quo and strengthen out-of-the box thinking in a way that it seemed unable to do.
At the start of this engagement, we administered the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and discovered that nine out of twelve members of this leadership team had the same personality profile. These were “ENTJs,” a group wired to do exactly the kind of innovative thinking that was needed. But, they were stuck. Through interviews, we learned there was rarely any type of conflict within the team. For us, this was a red flag. The team did not have anyone who was willing to challenge their collective way of thinking.
We worked with the team to identify blind spots and also helped its members bring in others (external to their team) who would challenge their ideas, ask questions, and create constructive conflict to actively encourage the thinking needed. It was a challenging process, but the team was strengthened, the outcomes were outstanding, and the senior leadership’s perspective on team composition and conflict was forever changed.
An outstanding leader creates and calibrates teams that embrace and leverage their inherent diversity of experience, strengths, and other characteristics. These leaders promote a culture that encourages individual members to challenge the team’s decision making. One way to start down this path to improved outcomes and greater success is to refuse to look in the mirror for your next hire.