Our organizations are full of smart, committed human beings whose most extreme characteristics tend now and then to get out of balance. Some staff appear to have natural self-corrective capabilities; others of us suffer from a kind of relentlessness that accompanies strong belief systems — two sides of a coin.
“Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness,” a friend of mine told me many years ago. That simple statement has not left my mind since. This particular friend, Lisa Chapnick, has managed a number of turnarounds in very entrenched systems and has gotten used to working with occasionally “difficult” personalities that have much to contribute. I have recalled and repeated this statement as I watched founders struggle to let go or saw passionate organizations with a common cause lock into ideologically polarized camps.
These situations are difficult to watch and excruciating to work in.
I was taught early on as a community organizer that everything contains contradictions — they are especially acutely felt in situations ripe for change. Because our organizations are developed to create change and because they often involve intensity of purpose, conflict is unavoidable in the work that we do. How we acknowledge and handle conflict, therefore, can make a huge difference to our ability to move forward. Unfortunately, how we engage with conflict is often also determined by our backgrounds, is somewhat hidden to us, and is very different, one to another.
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I have attached an article from the upcoming Winter 2004 issue. Written by Kenneth Bailey, the insightful “Brave Leadership in Organizational Conflict” gives all of us a lot to reflect on, particularly in times that engender heightened stress.
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