Want to Inspire? Start with Why

When a mission statement is well written, it serves as a declaration of purpose. But corporate mission statements are often little more than a descriptive sentence about products, aspirations or desired public perceptions. They’re more powerful when they clearly and specifically articulate the difference your business strives to make in the world.

Here’s an example from Roy Spence’s book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For:

Consider this mission statement by a large grocery chain: “Our goal is to be the first choice for those customers who have the opportunity to shop locally in [our stores]. To achieve this goal [we] aim to be best at fresh, best at availability, best at customer service, best at product and price.”

It’s a long list of what the company will be best at, but nothing about customers, employees, communities or society. Compare that with another food chain’s mission statement:

To help consumers find foods that offer more nutrition for the calories as they make choices in each department of our stores, thereby helping food shoppers make healthier choices.

Which statement do you find more engaging? If your mission statement isn’t compelling and engaging, you can’t expect employees to care, can you?

Leaders who want to succeed should straightforwardly communicate what they believe in and why they’re so passionate about their cause, according to business consultant Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Portfolio, 2010).

Most people know what they do and how they do it, Sinek says, but few communicate why they’re doing it.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy into why you do it,” he emphasizes.

If you don’t know and cannot communicate why you take specific actions, how can you expect employees to become loyal followers who support your mission?

The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. ~ James Baldwin, author

I’d love to hear from you: what’s been your experience with the mission statements of the companies you’ve worked for?

19 Tips for Managing Conflict

I’d like to summarize here some practical steps for dealing with conflict at work. I’ve found many of these tips useful, no matter what kind of organization, or what kind of position you’re working in. 

In the work I do with managers,  I don’t know anyone who can’t benefit from one or several of these tips. I hope you find them useful too. 


4 Ways to React to Conflict 

When conflict occurs, you can choose to react in one of four different ways: 

  1. You can play the victim and act betrayed. You can complain to those who will listen and create alliances against the offending party. This rarely works in the business world, yet many workers actively engage in such passive-aggressive behaviors instead of directly addressing conflict.
  2. You can withdraw, either by physically removing yourself from the situation or emotionally and mentally disengaging. This may involve walking out of a heated meeting, moving to a new unit or team, or quitting your job. A Gallup Organization survey reports that, at any one time, as many as 19 percent of an organization’s employees are actively disengaged. Worse yet, more than half (55 percent) are not engaged, simply putting in their hours. 
  3. You can invite change—an option most people never consider because it involves backing down from their original stance. Those engaged in personal battles or who remain stubbornly attached to their core beliefs may think change is tantamount to failure. Healthier individuals can look for win-win possibilities that open the door to creative solutions. 
  4. You can confront people honestly, openly and candidly. This is the preferred option, but it’s the most difficult to put into practice because we often fear conflict and lack the skills to work through it.


6 Keys to Managing Conflict 

When conflict occurs, leaders must address it as soon as possible to prevent it from escalating into a chronic or pervasive problem. The following steps are critical: 

  1. Create rules of engagement. Establish procedures and rules for addressing conflict fairly. 
  2. Demonstrate the importance of caring. Nothing can be resolved in an atmosphere of distrust.  
  3. Depersonalize the issues. Focus on behaviors and problems, not on personalities. 
  4. Don’t triangulate or bring in political allies. 
  5. Know when to let it go
  6. Know when to bring in a professional mediator, coach or trainer


9 Tips for Difficult Conversations

  1. Always start with the other person’s agenda.
  2. Listen without saying a word 70 percent of the time. Confirm you understand what the other person is saying 20 percent of the time, both verbally and nonverbally. In the remaining time, ask questions that advance the conversation’s meaning.
  3. Become a people reader. Pay attention to others’ facial expressions.
  4. Focus not only on what people are saying, but also on what they are not saying.
  5. Frequently confirm what people are thinking, feeling and believing. Don’t assume you know what they mean.
  6. When people are trying to make their points, practice the art of saying “tell me more.”
  7. Don’t go into difficult conversations unprepared. First, think about where you want to end up. Second, think about what’s really going on. Finally, begin the process of discovering and designing an action plan.
  8. From a communication standpoint, you get what you want by first giving others what they need.
  9. At the end of every important conversation, review the commitments.

Let me know what you think. I’d also love to hear your favorite tips for handling conflict.

Three Sources of Conflict

In my experience working with organizations, there are three factors behind most organizational conflicts:

  1. Differences in behavior and communication styles
  2. Differences in priorities and values
  3. Workplace conditions, including poor communications from leaders

Some personalities just seem to clash. It’s important to determine why two people rub each other the wrong way. Do they have opposing behavioral styles?

For example, an extrovert who is open and expressive could view an introvert as hard to read and perhaps untrustworthy. Likewise, a time-conscious, highly organized employee may harshly judge a spontaneous colleague. Someone who is highly analytical and precise might view an intuitive person as impulsive and flaky.

Teaching team members to understand basic human differences can help them overcome tendencies to judge and make assumptions. They can learn to accept coworkers’ differences. Consider using any of the commonly accepted assessment tools, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), another personality inventory or 360-degree feedback.

Workshops provide another option. An extrovert can learn to ask questions to draw out an introvert. The highly organized team member can learn to set more realistic deadlines.

Understanding personality differences can help prevent clashes and conflicts before they become ongoing problems.

I offer several options for learning about personalities in the workplace to help deal with differences and conflicts.


Expectations and AssumptionsPeople have different needs, values, beliefs, assumptions and cultural frameworks. Our expectations are fed by past experiences. If you erroneously assume that others are essentially mirror images, your lack of clarity can create strife. 

Leaders and teams must explore others’ expectations, assumptions, underlying values and priorities. This can be accomplished in group or individual sessions, led by a manager or coach.

When there is an elevated degree of conflict, it’s wise to retain a professional who is trained in interpersonal skills and mediation.  

Behind every complaint is an underlying value that goes unsatisfied. Asking questions like “What’s really important here?” often allows people to uncover competing values and priorities. You will facilitate more authentic conversations when you ask the right questions. 

What do you think about these ideas? What do you see as a major source of conflict in your organization? I’d love to hear from you.

Managing Conflicts – Tough Conversations

When conflict is ignored—especially at the top—the result will be an enterprise that competes more passionately with itself than with its competitors.”— Howard M. Guttman, When Goliaths Clash, 2003

If you’re in charge of people, you know how much of your time gets spent putting out fires, particularly interpersonal ones. In the work I do  with managers, some tell me that at least 20 percent of their time is consumed by taking care of conflict.  But the problems don’t stop there. Productivity decreases further when coworkers ruminate over arguments and disagreements. 

We work in a culture that values democratic processes and individual freedom. Some people encourage debate. I don’t think this is a bad thing, as new ideas often spring from those who refuse to “go along just to get along.”  I believe that conflict should be neither suppressed nor ignored within an organization. When it goes unnoticed, it only gets worse and invites stress. Eliminating conflict is not the answer. I’ve seen companies take this approach and I’ve seen some disasters.  It may be getting worse. Anytime there are cutbacks, there is a rise in conflict. Trend analysts predict workplace conflicts will rise because people face increased pressure to produce more and better with fewer resources. 

Job insecurity, a fluctuating economy, the stress of technological advancements, increased commoditization, and an epidemic of outsourcing and downsizing  ̶  these are only some of the factors that are putting stress on today’s work force. 

The Leadership Edge 

There is a strong link between the ability to resolve conflict and one’s perceived effectiveness as a leader. According to research from the Management Development Institute of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, effective managers resolve conflicts by employing four key behaviors:

  1. Gaining perspective
  2. Creating solutions
  3. Expressing emotions
  4. Reaching out

 Those who succeed are deemed more suitable for promotion. But most managers are trained in the competencies required for their careers and industries. They aren’t necessarily astute negotiators of people’s emotions and relationships.

That may be behind the recent upsurge in demand for coaching services.  The more people are stressed, the more they need help in managing their emotions and relationships. Conflict is often the catalyst.  Managed well, conflict can stimulate creativity, motivate people to stretch themselves, encourage peer-to-peer learning and help teams move beyond the status quo.   

Your task, as a leader and manager, is to conduct tough conversations that help address  workplace conflicts without wasting time. Conflict isn’t something to take lightly.  Tough conversations are hard to have, worth having, but not worth risking poor outcomes.

That’s why I recommend working with an experienced coach.