Leadership Tip – Embrace the Differences

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In a conversation with inventor Chris Hawker, we got into group dynamics and interpersonal relationships. Chris studied comparative religion. He brought up the value of exploring differences.

Naturally when seeking to get along we look for similarities. “Both religions worship a God. OK, that’s a start.” However, to truly understand, it’s important to explore the differences. What are the beliefs in religion A that drives behavior? What are the drivers for religion B? Analyzing these differences leads to understanding and perhaps a greater ability for co-existence.

The same holds true within a corporate environment. The root cause of so many conflicts we see between people involve a misinterpretation of the other parties goals and motivations. Over the years in our practice we’ve advised on conflicts between nurses and doctors, programmers and analysts, companies and their distributors, and many more too numerous to list, all with the same characteristics. We’ll explore this concept in regard to interpersonal and departmental relationships here but it also applies directly in any negotiation as well. Here is a generic but realistic example between two departments that frequently bump into each other.

Tom from Marketing has a controlling boss who likes to be involved in everything. Joe from Sales has a hands-off boss who only wants to be bothered when there’s an emergency. Joe first gets upset when Tom attends the sales staff meeting and undermines his idea. Joe, on a number of occasions says, “All marketing does is sit around and talk about things. They never do anything. They’re just in our way.” Joe says this a few times and really begins to believe it. Cooperation is avoided. The cycle of mistrust kicks in. Negative opinions are reinforced.

This usually leads to an offsite at some team building facility.

But what if Joe and Tom simply explored and understood their differences? If Joe understands the style of the head of marketing he’ll get some insight into Tom’s behavior. Tom’s trained to be involved. He is expected to attend and speak up at sales meetings. He’s going to have to report back to his boss on the value he added at the meeting. Perhaps Tom isn’t an obstructionist blow-hard, he’s just trying to do his job, in his environment.

Once Joe understands and appreciates these drivers there’s a chance he can work with Tom to help him meet his needs in the marketing department and also help him find ways to support the sales department better. And yes, this is a two way street. Each party is responsible for a solution but one side can drive it.

Is it worth Joe’s time to fix this? How much easier would sales be if marketing was utilized instead of having to make sales in spite of marketing? How much stress is avoided if the daily, broiling, escalating, conflict is avoided? How many sales can Joe make on that retreat day when he’ll be forced to catch Tom when he falls backward?

Look for the differences. Understand the root motivations and work with them. It’s ultimately much easier.

Photo credit: Dan4th Nicholas

Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On April 15, 2014
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