While culture is frequently a hot topic from startups to enterprises, it’s rare we hear the founder’s perspective on conflict. In a perfect business world, an idea is born, a company formed, great leaders selected and employees hired to fuel the dream. Customers flock to the product, buy effusively, tell all their friends and the startup IPOs. This is what every entrepreneur hopes will happen when he or she is daydreaming about the next big thing. However, we all know it’s a little more complicated than that.
A founder’s life is rife with disruption. Business model challenges, production errors, technological glitches, recruiting difficulties, funding needs. It is in these moments of disruption that powerful changes can occur that have the power to alter the course of a business’s destiny. Why? Conflict.
Conflict is a necessary catalyst for the exchange of new and different ideas imperative to agile thinking. These seemingly inconvenient differences of opinion are actually stimuli that allow an organization to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. More importantly, conflict allows a company to fortify its immune system. It is here, in the trenches, where the critical element of culture is defined and tested.
Contrary to popular belief, culture isn’t just an espresso machine, free lunches or a ping-pong table. A strong culture is a company’s central nervous system. It is the road map that sends signals to all extremities of the body or in this case, the organization, on how to process information and respond to it. Culture is a critical indicator of the overall health of a company, and the mechanism that allows unity and autonomy to coexist. How?
Conflict provides an opportunity to empower team members on all levels from the trenches to the C-suite to discover the most optimal solutions together. Strong leaders serve by example and model identification of issues, discussion and resolution techniques. They invest in the health of their product or service by demonstrating humility, transparency and willingness to their people. Wise founders recognize conflict as the stimulus that engages three of the key elements any business needs to succeed: solid structure, sound processes and quality people.
There is a fine line between delegation and empowerment. Delegation, by definition, is the assignment of tasks. Empowerment, however, is to give power or authority. What makes you feel more valued? Being given a task, or being recognized and rewarded for your skills and talents? Without conflict, there is only delegation. Imperative discoveries and timely adjustments cannot be made. Empowerment does not have an opportunity to thrive, and thus a systematic shutdown occurs. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. But it happens regardless and in all three aspects of a business. People leave, processes fail and structure collapses.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to embrace conflict as a tool to empower our business to succeed. Recognizing and rewarding the unique gifts of our valued teams by allowing them the opportunity to share vital feedback, thoughts and ideas not only strengthens relationships within an organization but the organization as a whole. Through these meaningful communications we reinforce the commitment we made when selecting our staff, give respect even when in disagreement and maintain the humility that allows us to remain teachable. From a founder’s perspective, empowerment is the evolutionary trait that ensures our survival.
Saylor is the Marketing and Communications Manager for a global SaaS company in Denver, CO. She loves mentoring others on their career journeys, running her marketing consultancy, Anchor Element, as a side hustle and getting her fill of all the adventure this life has to offer.