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How Successful CEOs Handle Conflict

SSL Consulting analyzed 100 significant conflicts within either Top-Management or Mid-Management. Findings revealed a staggering 68% of conflicts came from uncertainty in their own role, or conflicting roles and targets. 21% of conflicts came from a mismatch in personality and values, and 11% from constant fighting for the same internal resources.

Over two decades, SSL Consulting has delivered the Acceleration Strategy program to countless corporations. The Acceleration Strategy program removes obstacles in the organization and connects the Strategy to the People, ultimately unlocking the full potential of the organization.

Conflicts between people always seem to be one of the major things that slow down Strategy Execution, and appear to be directly connected to the lack of performance and the financial bottom line.From an Executive Assessment profiling point of view, in Top and Mid-Management, it has been argued that conflict happens between people are of three varieties; different personalities, different profiles, and different values. To test this theory, we were challenged to conduct a survey of the next 100 conflicts that we encountered in our workshops and Executive Coaching (on either Executive level or Mid Management level) across all the industries that we work with. Additionally, as our clients are located around the world from the Middle East to the US, from Europe to China, our survey was also offered cross-cultural insights. Our surprising finding has been that only 21% of the conflicts that we have documented are due to personality related conflicts, in other words, people not liking each other or a mismatch of personalities. A staggering 68% of the conflicts documented and analysed came from conflicting roles and targets, both within matrix organizations and also non-matrix organizations.

In the majority of these cases, conflict stemmed from a lack of clarity in a manager’s own perception of his/her own roles, or a lack of clarity in the other manager’s roles, having individual KPIs that work against each other, or objectives in the strategy that were not aligned for execution. This finding is a big surprise for the CEOs we work with, as before the survey we asked them what they thought were the biggest sources of conflicts in their organization. In most cases the general consensus was that they had very ambitious people in their organization, so it was perceived as normal that there would be competition for the next promotion.

When appointed CEO, one only receives half of the information than previously given, and of course it is relatively biased information. CEOs who are graduates of the SSL Consulting Accelerated Strategy program are trained to avoid conflicts by securing more communication and more time to clarify the cross-over (overlapping) areas of responsibility – the areas in the Company’s value chain where conflicts therefore can be avoided. In our Executive Coaching, and Conflict Resolution training with our clients, we were encouraged to observe mutual respect between colleagues.

However if the company does not deal with the lack of clarity in roles and conflicting KPIs in the company’s value chain, a conflict that could have been avoided may end up becoming a long standing power struggle between managers. That will always result in negative influences on motivation, retainment, leadership pipeline, performance culture, and the financial Bottom Line. We also found that by clarifying those areas in workshops with the Top and Mid-Management teams, and by applying some simple principles and rules, for example who is the decision maker and who is the influencer in the cross-over (overlapping) areas of responsibility, immediately the organization will be able to perform on a much higher level.

The final 11% of conflicts documented were mainly found to be due to limited resources, and the constant fighting for the same internal resources.

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