How Avoiding Conflict Was Perceived as a Failure to Lead

Damien, a top producer in an investment bank had twice been the target of complaints by direct reports on his team. Despite the significant revenue he brought to his firm, his manager told him his future was not secure and he needed to develop better interpersonal and management skills. 

After Damien described the problem during the consultation, it became clear that he had noticed trouble spots and performance problems within his team and had failed to address them. He assumed at the time the issues would resolve themselves, or he could “handle” them when necessary. When the problems progressed to the point that customers were affected, his team placed the blame squarely on him. Since he had not previously escalated these issues to his manager or Human Resource department, he had inadvertently created a risk management problem.

During the consultation, he admitted he had ignored the issues in order to avoid conflict with his team. He subsequently realized that protecting himself by avoiding conflict was perceived by others as a failure to lead and to protect the interests of the customers, team and firm. Over the course of several more sessions, he initiated contact with his firm’s employee relations department to get input, direction, and support.

Through that collaborative process, he started learning how handle team dynamics more skillfully and gain confidence. Simultaneously, he demonstrated his willingness to access constructive feedback and rely on the resources his firm provided for exactly these types of issues. One year later, he continues to create substantial revenue and has been commended for his achievement developing managerial skills and protecting the reputation of his firm.

About Elizabeth Sudler

As a senior manager in two national behavioral health insurance companies, I had P&L responsibility for large clinical and call centers. Predominantly my work has involved turnarounds and operational expansion to meet growth targets. I have consulted in vendor roles with multiple Fortune 500 companies on behavioral change management, and led hundreds of seminars on resilience and self-management topics using psychological principles from my training as a licensed psychotherapist.

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