Leadership, Healing and Pooper Scoopers

Being a leader and an elephant pooper scooper have more in common than we might think. A new president-elect was elected two days ago; and, because the impacts of external events have a way of slipping into the workplace, it’s likely you manage an employee or two who’s unhappy with the election results. His or her discontent is infecting the work environment. As leaders, it’s time to pick up the pooper scooper, embrace Abraham Lincoln’s words “with malice toward none and charity for all,” and get to work.

Twenty-one months (yep, that’s how long this election has been going on) is a long time for once unthinkable, out-of-bounds notions and behaviors to move from the fringe to the norm. Now legitimized, these ideas rub against someone’s differing perceptions, values, or goals, which prompts them to champion the virtue of their position. The workplace result? Conflict. Research from CPP, Inc. shows employees spend anywhere from two to six hours a week dealing with conflict at work. Ugh.

As leaders, our job here is two-fold. We must act and avoid making the mistake of treating conflict as a life-or-death scourge to be stamped out. Differences, and the conflict they spawn, aren’t a dangerous deficiency or adversary to be overcome. Rather, they’re rich with opportunity.

As a team leader, one must realize the paradox that surrounds conflict. The team needs to embrace conflict as a means of generating and evaluating ideas. While at the same time, it must shy away from it to prevent frustration or alienation. The biggest challenge for the team leader is figuring out how to balance these two factors. ~Erich Brockmann, professor

As leaders, it’s our job to:

  • Steer conflict from dysfunctional to functional, from destructive to constructive, from disregard to respect—all in pursuit of healthy conflict that facilitates innovation and openness.
  • Assist people in dealing with issues as well as helping them remember the lessons learned in childhood about sharing and handling disappointment because rarely do we get 100 percent of what we want.
  • Acknowledge inequity and injustice, frame solutions that draw from both poles contributing to the conflict, and assist people in recognizing there’s always a greater good that transcends individual wants and wishes.
  • Weave connection and humanize the difference. “The other” has a name, a face, and feelings, too.
  • Build an environment where it’s OK to disagree, but it’s not OK to fail to listen and learn, or label “the other” as being wrong.

All legislation, all government, all society is formed upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy; upon these, everything is based. ~Henry Clay, 19th century lawyer and statesman

Sometimes the contents of the pooper scooper get heavy and smelly. However, that’s when we—if we want to call ourselves leaders—do our best, and most meaningful, work.

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