Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - March 12, 2014

Fighting the Good Fight

In this issue of Jeff's Thoughts, my associate Nan Gesche reminds us that conflict is not always something to be avoided. More about Nan below.

Our industry is used to tackling conflict and encouraging debate ... when we're talking about conflict with outsiders, that is. For instance, our trade associations regularly respond to regulatory and legislative proposals, fighting for what's best for their members.

But while those "fights" may clearly be good, how do you feel about internal conflict within your own institution? How excited are you to go to work when you know you have an "issue" to tackle? Do you avoid conflict at all costs because you believe nothing good can come of it?

We often think of conflict as a "bad" thing. Conflict itself isn't inherently bad, but how we manage conflict is often bad. Conflict can spark employee engagement, contributing to increased productivity and profitability. After all, according to eePulse, which conducts in-depth surveys that measure employee engagement, employee complacency - having employees who are reluctant to rock the boat -- is the single greatest predictor of poor company performance.

Are your employees or board of directors too agreeable? Are they afraid to point out the elephant in the room? We need to stop thinking that silence is agreement and that passive agreement is useful. It's time to own up to the truth that a heated debate can push individuals and organizations to their best. We have to create an environment where it is okay to challenge long-held and cherished assumptions, to foster productive debate.

Think about the last time someone on your team disagreed with you. Did that open the door to a good, productive debate? Or was the focus on "fixing" an "incorrect" opinion?

Nearly every organization claims to welcome questions and differing opinions, but we all know that in many cases, that welcome is not a very warm one. In the documentary "Enron, The Smartest Guys in the Room," we see what happens when people aren't allowed to share a negative message up the lines of an organization. We all know how that story ended!

To make disagreement possible, leaders need to set clear boundaries around what is and is not acceptable behavior when disagreeing with others. They need to pay close attention to any consequences that follow an employee's taking on the risk of raising a different point of view.

Of course, not every issue is worth "fighting" over. Good fights often arise:

How do you challenge your people to come up with a "better" way of doing things? Do you reward them for new ideas? Do you truly allow them to challenge the status quo?

For these important fights, the "referee" who guides the debate has a crucial role. Management staff may either need some coaching to develop the appropriate skills, or they may decide to use an outside facilitator who has less reason to react emotionally to the discussion.

Great leaders understand that true harmony comes from putting tough issues on the table and working through them. Why hire bright, passionate employees if you are not going to harvest their perspectives on key issues?

A workplace filled with conflict is rarely successful. Just remember, neither is a workplace where conflict and debate never occur. Create an environment where questions and disagreements play an appropriate role in building the future of your institution.

More About Nan Gesche

Nan Gesche helps bank staff play well, and fight well, together. She has seen banking from almost every possible perspective, from leading the training function for a bank holding company to her post as a bank examiner to her current consulting activities in the areas of communication, change, and organizational effectiveness. If you need coaching or facilitation to fight the good fight, contact Nan at You can learn more about Nan at the Associates page on my web site, or at Nan's own site at