At an event I recently attended, a senior leader gave his organization a presentation on how to handle conflict. He said a lot of things I agreed with, i.e. conflict is inevitable and try to be part of the solution when conflict arises. As good as some of his advice sounded, a fundamental flaw in his assumptions caused me to learn more about him as a leader than anything new about his presentation topic.
He framed the beginning of his presentation by asking his audience “do you have a complaint against this organization?” A few minutes later he asked this rhetorical question again and then followed it immediately with “don’t you trust your leaders?”
He never saw it, but in that moment he exposed his true beliefs – “if you have a complaint about this organization, then there must be a problem with you.” He never once said “it’s our responsibility as leaders to care about your complaints and to partner with you to fix what is broken.” It was a classic example of the fundamental attribution error in action.
Even though his rhetoric encouraged creative conflict, I can guarantee you that his behavior at work discourages real dissent. He is unable to perceive that his theory in action is different than his espoused theory. Alas, his "wisdom" will keep him from really learning, and his own learning disability will constrain his organization’s ability to learn and grow.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!