Leadership Is Problem-Solving

Conflict occurs when two or more parties are unable to agree with one another. Typically, conflict comes into play when team members bring different beliefs to the table regarding culture, race, or gender. A person’s educational background could also be a source of major conflict, since one person may have substantial knowledge of a certain subject, while another may not.

Leaders should know that conflict hinders productivity, lowers morale across the board, causes more conflict, and often leads to inappropriate behaviors. Effective leaders can identify the conflict process by examining whether the organization or team is going through service periods – these periods are forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.

During this process, the organization or the team is at the beginning stage of the conflict. Problems and issues may occur, and it is up to the leader, organization, or team in charge of completing the assigned task(s) to determine the best way to address the problems.

The process is listed below:

1. Forming This is when the leader has communicated to the team member his or her clear goals and objectives. This is the time when the organization comes together, and the team members meet and get to know each other.

2. Storming This is when there are some conflicts within an organization or among the team members. During this stage, all problems, issues, and concerns are noted and are placed on the decision-making priority list.

3. Norming This is when the leader works on team building. The leader works on eliminating all problems and issues concerning the organization and the team members.

4. Performing This is when the team performs the duties and responsibilities of a task. The team may like or dislike each other, but they work together to complete a task.

5. Adjourning This is when a team must break up. Some teams will celebrate its achievements, and others will dissolve. After the completion of the task, you may work with the same people again.

Leaders have the responsibility of managing the conflict of the entire group. When conflict arises, leaders should address all of the problems that have added to the conflict. They must use their energy to tackle the main issues and help people learn how to recognize and benefit from their differences. Leaders often ask themselves: Why do we have to deal with so much conflict? They may wonder where these issues come from and what can be done to prevent the problems from reoccurring. Provided is a list of the main causes of conflict:


There is no best way to deal with conflict. It depends on the current situation. Here are the major ways that people use to deal with conflict.

1. Review job description regularly.

2. Write down and date job descriptions.

3. Discuss the job roles and responsibilities.

4. Discuss what needs to be improved.

5. Intentionally build relationships with all members of the team.

6. Ask team members about accomplishments, challenges, and issues.

7. Get regular, written status reports which will list the employee’s current needs from management, accomplishments, and their plans for the upcoming period.

8. Conduct basic training about: interpersonal communication, conflict management, and delegation.

9. Develop procedures for routine tasks and include the team members’ input.

10. Get team members and other specialists to review the procedures.

11. Distribute the procedures to everyone in the organization.

12. Train employees about the procedures.

13. Regularly hold management meetings, e.g. every month, to communicate initiatives and the status of current programs, and revisit the mission and mission statements.

14. Consider an anonymous suggestion box in which employees can provide suggestions.

15. Collaborate with others.

Sometimes, the leader is responsible for the conflict. This should not be the case. As a leader, you should watch your behavior and avoid relying on inappropriate communication. Leaders must understand the importance of recognizing their triggers, or words and actions that may cause an angry or emotional response. Your trigger might be a facial expression, a tone of voice, a finger being pointed, a stereotype, or a certain phrase. Once you know your triggers, you can better control your reactions.

Below are several ways organizational leaders can control themselves during times of conflict:

1. Know your likes and dislikes.

2. Write down 5 traits that really bug you about others.

3. Be aware of your “hot buttons.”

4. Be able to manage yourself – by cooling down.

5. Avoid use of the word “you.”

6. Move a heated discussion to a private area, if possible.

7. Give the other person time to vent.

8. Leaders should not interrupt others when they are speaking.

9. Ask open-ended questions.

10. Avoid the “why” questions.

11. Talk in terms of the present as much as possible.

12. Mention your feeling.

13. Acknowledge where you disagree and agree.

14. Work on the issue, not the person.

15. Ask “what can we do to fix the problem?”

16. Ask the other person if they will support the action.

17. Ask for a “cooling off period.”

18. Thank the person for working with you.

19. Name the conflict, and identify the issues.

20. Write your thoughts down to come to a conclusion.

21. Talk to someone, asking him or her to help you summarize.

22. Pick at least one thing you can do about the conflict.

23. Identify at least three courses of action, list three pros and cons and select an action.

24. Wait at least a day before you do anything about the conflict.

25. Always have a positive attitude.

If the situation remains a conflict, then the leader should do the following:

1. Use the policies and procedures in order to solve the problems.

2. Consider whether to agree or disagree.

3. Consider seeking a third party to mediate.

Other methods leaders can use to improve their problem-solving skills include the following:

Practice active listening. Look beyond the scope of what the other person is saying; examine tone, body language, and other clues that may communicate more about what the other person is feeling.

Pay attention to the conversation instead of simply focusing on what you are going to say next. Showcase your concentration skills by using body language that says you are paying attention. Avoid looking at the ground with your arms crossed, which implies that you are uninterested in what the other person is telling you.

Instead, look the other person in the eye, nod your head, keep your body relaxed and your posture open.

Come up with several suggestions to help solve the problem. Most people only believe in two ways to manage conflict: either fighting or avoiding the problem. However, there are plenty of other options out there. Address the problem, or consider tracing it all the way back to the source to correct the trigger. The more you brainstorm, the better off you will be in the future.

The most important things are to get the facts right and to keep an open mind. Use your imagination to think up ways that will help resolve the argument. Instead of putting your defenses up, face the problem head-on.

Moving Toward Agreement

The most effective way to solve problems is to communicate with everyone involved. This helps the leader make sure that all parties are on the same page. He or she should focus on agreeing on a solution that makes team members feel as though they are an important part of the process. Below is a list of ways that will help the organization reach a consensus:

• The leader and all team members should agree to sit down together in a neutral place to discuss the problem.

• Approach the discussion with a sincere willingness to settle the problem.

• State your needs-meaning what results are important to you-and define the problem. Make sure you include both how the problem affects you individually and how it affects the organization.

• Discuss all issues in a way that avoids insulting or placing the blame on others. The discussion should be open, which means that no one should be left feeling defensive.

• Examine several different ways to meet team the members’ needs in a way that will help solve the problem.

• Be flexible and open-minded throughout the entire conversation.

• Decide who will be responsible for specific actions once all parties come to an agreement.

• Delegate tasks to reinforce that the solution is a collaborative effort.

• Write the agreement down and give everyone involved a copy of the plan.

Confronting the Issue

Good communication skills are essential as we go about our lives. They allow us to resolve issues before they become problems and keep us from getting angry. When you talk to other people, especially those who are confrontational in nature, you should:

• Look and feel relaxed.

• Keep your voice calm.

• Be direct and specific about what’s bothering you.

• Use “I” statements-statements that emphasize how you feel. Avoid blaming the other person at all costs, as this is unproductive and could lead to hurt feelings and defensiveness. Instead of yelling, “You always interrupt me! You don’t care what I think,” try saying, “I feel frustrated when I can’t finish making my point. I feel as though my opinions don’t matter.”

• Ask; don’t make demands. Instead of saying, “Get away from me,” try asking, “Would you please leave me alone right now? I need some space for a little while.”

• Make your statement once, and then give it a rest. If you need to repeat yourself, wait until a bit of time has gone by.

• Avoid repeating your point endlessly.


Many schools offer programs that train students to act as mediators for their peers. It is essential to understand that mediators do not make decisions for people. Rather, they help people make their own decisions. Mediators encourage dialogue, provide guidance, and help all parties define the areas of agreement and disagreement that contribute to the problem.

All leaders could learn a thing or two in the area of problem solving! The above information can be used to improve your problem-solving skills in a way that will help you become a greater leader.

Can you think of anyone who is good at problem solving? Why is this person so effective? How can you become a more effective problem-solver? What can you do to prepare your team to become better problem solvers. These are questions if answered can improve all elements of your organization.