Using unconventional leadership development tools

By: Curtis R. Sprouse

In order to change something for the positive, we must first understand the "why." Anyone can observe a behavior, but few can tell you why that person acted in such a way.

Let's use conflict resolution as an example. Most executives have some capacity for resolving conflict, but when asked how they do it, few of them understand how behavioral dynamics shape their approach. There are five specific behavioral attributes that impact one’s ability to resolve conflict, which I will discuss below. These behaviors are invoked in a specific order that defines one’s ability approach to resolving conflict.

Looking at an executive who has high compromise, they are very willing to explore new ideas and concepts, and enter situations open-minded. High accommodation means that this particular person is willing to move in a new direction and meet the needs of others. If this individual also has high avoidance, well-developed to high collaboration, a desire to work with others, and low competing; they are internally driven to be the best they can be but are not necessarily interested in competing against others, typically showing little sense of urgency.

Such a person may be perceived as easy-going, easy to work with, and someone who tends to provide minimal resistance, but helps to resolve conflict. This would be an inaccurate assessment of this person. The reality is that the person does not like conflict. They do not engage well with others as they avoid, compromise, and accommodate; therefore, they do not have to be involved with making difficult discussions. This is not a person that is effective at conflict resolution.

The first lesson is that things are not as they appear. By defining the objective "why," we are able to understand what the person is really doing when faced with conflict. This person needs to engage.They need to utilize other skills and abilities such as reflectivity, well-developed expertise, good will, social skills, and communication. Be engaging, they provide a different perspective and contribute to the process, changing the dynamic. This does not mean the person needs to be confrontational. People with high reflectivity have creative minds and can use questions to solicit more insight and provide perspective in a nonthreatening way.

The same person can also understand that four of the behaviors that guide conflict resolution are learned behaviors, whereas compromise, collaboration, avoidance, and accommodation are all learned. Competing is the only genetic trait that impacts conflict resolution. By developing the four learned behaviors, a person can adopt a more effective approach to resolving conflict. They will have to manage the competitive dynamic relative to conflict situations.

The situation I have just described does a number of things that are unconventional. It first defines a concept like conflict resolution into five behaviors that are genetic and learned. It then helps the individual understand how these five behaviors shape their interactions. This process helps people focus on actions that will affect change in a desired way, helping people to measurably improve.

Last but not least, this type of approach can be used to hold people accountable as it measurably defines the behaviors used in a given situation. This approach can be used for more than just conflict resolution. This approach can be used to help people understand motivational theory, what drives one to do what they do. They can be used to help people understand the concept of listening, interpersonal skills, attitude, selective perception, coachability, direct versus indirect operating styles, influence, implementation skills, and several other dynamics of leadership.

Knowing the "why" is critical, most all programs focus only on the “what.” Until one can understand the mechanism of action- the reason why they do what they do-it is difficult for them to understand and identify how effective they are, how effective they could be, and what they need to do to improve.