How Leaders Handle Team Conflict to Make it Constructive

Blocks of two team leaders compete with each other. Competition, conflict resolution

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out some groups of people perform better than others. Not only do high-performing teams produce better results, but their team members have a sense of meaning, belonging, and achievement.  

There have been many great studies about what makes a team successful, but maybe none better than Google’s two-year study called Project Aristotle. Google’s research team found that the best teams were effective because they worked well together, regardless of who was on them. The five characteristics of enhanced groups include; Psychological Safety, Dependability, Structure and Clarity, Meaning, and Impact.

The most essential of the five was psychological safety. All psychological safety means is when team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. 

Bad leaders and teams are void of this crucial element because they look at being vulnerable, taking risks, and speaking up as negative instead of positive. It’s precisely why they never meet their potential and achieve their biggest goals. 

The best leaders and teams embrace constructive conflict. 

What’s interesting about psychological safety is that it’s impossible to achieve unless the leader and team members embrace the idea of constructive conflict.  

Three Types of Team Conflict

Conflict, by definition, is an escalation of a disagreement between two parties. It comes from the Latin word “Con” meaning together, and “Fligere” meaning to strike. While the definition is simple, what I have found coaching and working with leaders and teams for over a decade is there are three types of conflict:

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What Leaders and Teams Can Do to Have Constructive Conflict

Both high-performing teams and great leaders realize the only way to successfully have constructive conflict is for every team member to work toward a shared goal. The moment a team loses sight of the shared goal is the moment constructive conflict begins to fade away.  

The moment a team loses sight of the shared goal is the moment constructive conflict begins to fade away.

Take a small startup working in the eCommerce industry, as an example. The eight-person team was in a feverous debate (in Slack of all places) about their branding and modifying their company logo. In just a few slack messages, the discussion heated up, and each team member was passionately communicating the reasons for their particular position.  

As the conflict began to rise, it started to get a little personal, so I sent a short reminder message: Conflict on a team can be good! As long as we can remember, we want the same outcomes.

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Kudos to this high-performing team because they quickly pivoted from deconstructive conflict to constructive conflict by reminding each other of their shared goal and passion for the mission they were on together. 

Relish the Conflict, But Stay Kind and Curious

While some people’s personalities lend themselves to avoid conflict and others run towards it, a common desire is to be treated well in a disagreement. In Mareo McCracken’s new book, Really Care for Them, he wrote, “Nobody likes to be told to be quiet, or to be calm, to shut up.”

Not only is he right, but it’s also an essential part of constructive conflict. Being kind and recognizing that each person is a human with feelings is easy to forget in the heat of the moment. Great leaders recognize this and speak the truth, but they do it with empathy and humility.  

Great leaders speak the truth, but they do it with empathy and humility. 

As hard as it might be, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and communicating the truth is what the best leaders do. They recognize they aren’t above someone else, and there will be times where they will be the one who needs truth spoken into their life, so leaving their ego out is required. They rely heavily on the trust they have earned with their team in the small daily acts, so people will let them say hard things.

How to Embrace Constructive Conflict as a Leader

If you lead a team, you might think this sounds good, but there is no way this type of constructive conflict will work on my team. Instead of assuming it won’t, try to embrace the following: 

  1. Establish a Shared Goal – Where is your team going, and what are they working every day to accomplish?
  2. Ensure Everyone is Committed – It’s one thing to have a goal; it’s another thing for each team member to be committed to achieving it. 
  3. Invite “TVD”– “TVD” stands for the truth, debate, and vulnerability. If team members can leverage facts, discussion, be vulnerable in front of each other, success is in your future.
  4. Debate Doesn’t Mean Decision – Debate doesn’t mean the decision. On a recent episode of Master of Scale with Reid Hoffman, he covered one of Ray Dalio Principles about conflict; “Make sure people don’t confuse the right to complain, give advice, and openly debate with the right to make decisions.”

Closing

When you invite constructive conflict into your team and relationships, they will get better. The only question that remains is will you be the kind of leader who does it?

In the comments, please tell me how you invite constructive conflict on your team or organization.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Get 1% Better as Leader

In season 23 episode 3 we are joined by Rob O’Donohue.  He is the host of the 1% Better Podcast and is a PMO/Leadership Coach at Dell.


In the show we cover:

– The story of Dave Brailsford and British Cycling

– How to be a better coach to others

– Great questions to leverage in order to effectively coach

– What role emotional intelligence plays

– How you can improve your emotional intelligence

Elevate the Way You LeadBuilding the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill and debuted as a #1 Best Seller on Amazon. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Become a Better Leader by Leveraging Practice

“Each successful moment of leadership matters.”

In season 22 episode 8 John Eades covers, how to practice leadership. Specifically, things you can do to grow and get better at a rapid rate. 


In the show he covers

– The difference between knowledge, comprehension, and application

– Why developing your leadership skills is so important

– Why it’s important to know where you stand in order to get better

– How to lead in moments of leadership

– What’s the definition of leadership

– Why Ben Franklin had it right about preparation

– Why you can’t worry about being perfect

– How to not compound your leadership mistakes 

How to Help Others Find Confidence in Themselves

“When you help someone else find and develop confidence in themselves, it will change the trajectory of their life.”

In season 22 episode 7 John Eades covers the important topic of confidence. Specifically, how do you help others find and develop confidence in themselves?


In the show he covers:

– What’s the definition of confidence

– How to develop confidence in yourself

– Why helping others find confidence is so important

– How to actively help others develop confidence

– How to transfer belief to others

– Why challenging others is so important

– How to empower others to make decisions

– How to coach and teach others

– Why Praise and acknowledgment is critical 

Why Building Your Confidence is Crucial

In season 22 Episode 6 John Eades covers the important topic of confidence. Not only what confidence is but how to build your confidence as a leader.


Confidence is critical in life.  Here is the recap:

  1. Leverage Affirmations
  2. Execute Small
  3. Eliminate Certain Words
  4. Show up and Get Better
  5. Take other’s words lightly

In the show he also covers:

– Why confidence is like a flower

– Where the word confidence comes from

– The definition of confidence

– Why confidence is crucial

– How to build your confidence

– Why affirmations are so important

– How to get 1% better

– Why it’s important to eliminate certain words from your vocabulary

– Why you must take other’s words with a grain of salt

The One Critical Key to Getting Better as a Leader

“If you want to be a great leader it is going to take discipline. Which is the willingness and the ability to sacrifice what you want now for what you want more later on.”

In season 22 episode 5, John Eades covers the important topic of discipline.  Specifically why it’s important you are self-disciplined with your daily choices. 

In the show he covers:

– The story about “Acres of Diamonds”

– What discipline means

– Why self-discipline is so important to becoming a better leader

– Why it’s important you understand the Latin translation of the word

– How to be a more self-disciplines person

This show is brought to you by LearnLoft.com

Why Leaders Should Reject Complacency

“Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to what you are capable of.”

In season 22 episode 4 we are joined by Alan Stein Jr. He is the author of Raise Your Game and keynote speaker. 

In the show we cover:

– How do you lead yourself well?

– Why self-awareness is so important in leadership

– What you can do to become more self-aware

– How leaders can provide self-awareness to others

– Why leaders should reject complacency 

– Why comparison is toxic for leaders

– Why change is so important

– How limiting beliefs hold us back

– Alan’s favorite quotes

Why You Can’t Outsource Leadership

“Everything leaders do is communication.”

In season 22 episode 3, Father Matthew Kauth is an author and founder of St. Joseph’s College Seminary.

In the show we cover:

– What it means to press into discipline

– How intentional leaders have to be about communication

– Why communication has to be in the mode of the receiver

– Why leaders want to be noble

– How leaders transfer belief to others

– Why leaders need to think bigger

– Why character development is so important for leaders

– How to think about fear

Why You Should Pursue the Platform of Leadership

“You are good enough to lead.  You are good enough to build relationships, you are good enough for the promotion, you are good enough to help other people live out their potential.”

In season 22 episode 2, John Eades covers “The Man in the Arena” and why you don’t find great leaders you build them.  

In the show he covers:

– Why you should want to be in the arena

– Theodore Roosevelt’s famous, “Man in the Arena” 

– Why you should pursue the platform of leadership

– Why it’s important to keep up your education

– How to use daily interactions for growth

– Why it’s important you never give up.

How the Best Leaders Create More Leaders

“I am the leader, get in line behind me.” 

This is a dumb rule that spread like wildfire and developed an inaccurate representation of leadership to six-year-olds across the country.

I started my own leadership journey thinking I was playing line leader. It caused me to fail miserably, but then I realized the Tom Peter quote was true, “the best leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders.” I am sure if Peters had created six-year-old line leaders, he would have had the leader in the back making sure everyone was courageous enough to go into music class.

Now, I work daily to help other leaders do the same, and I’ve learned one very important lesson for creating more leaders successfully:

You can’t get caught up in the outcome 

Each person chooses to apply what they learn or not. In other words, all you can do is lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. Adopting this mindset allows ownership to lay with the person who ultimately has to choose and live out their own leadership journey. No longer will you feel the need to force or control the outcome.

The very best leaders embody these characteristics that in turn, help them effectively create more leaders: 

They are good leaders themselves

No one wants to learn from someone who doesn’t live out what it means to be a leader. I define leadership as someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others over an extended period of time.  

When I asked Dustin Kaehr on the Follow My Lead Podcast what the most important characteristic for a leader to embody today he said, “There are many things, but humility is at the top.”

You have to walk the walk and talk the talk. It means you aren’t just teaching them why it’s important to have humility, but you’re also showing your team how to be a humble leader on a daily basis.

They are persistent and consistent on their leadership journey

Becoming a leader takes time and it doesn’t have an end date on it. Just because you get to some level of proficiency as a leader, you will always be learning new and trying new things to continue your development.

A mentor of mine told me, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be taught.” It’s true. Building up other leaders requires a love of learning and professional development. Be an example for your people.

They are constantly teaching and coaching

Elevating others to become their best takes a lot of work and patience. A random lesson here or there isn’t going to get the job done. You have to have your teaching and coaching hat on all the time because any given moment could expose an opportunity to teach an important lesson or use a question to coach someone to come up with answers themselves. 

They admit they don’t have all the answers

There will be moments where you learn something you have been teaching is proven wrong. In moments like this, reject your natural tendencies and say the words so many people struggle to say, “I was wrong, here is a better way to do it.”

There is no doubt the best leaders are learners, which means it’s completely okay if you don’t have all the answers. 

They give away ownership and responsibility

Power is a funny thing for leaders because often with the title comes a power they have never had. Unfortunately some like the sensation so much they hold onto and take advantage of it. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”  

The best leaders give away the power and responsibility to others so they can take ownership of their decision making and behaviors. This is easy to write but difficult to put into practice.  

Whether you are currently embodying these five characteristics or not, don’t beat yourself up. One of the most important things you can do as a professional is helping others become a leader, so take this as a sign it’s time to make some changes. 

What’s Your Leadership Style? Join over 40k leaders and discover how well you are leveraging love and discipline as a leader and find out your current leadership style for free.

Ultimate Leadership Academy Do you lead a team and want to elevate the way you lead? Apply to join the Ultimate Leadership Academy. A virtual leadership development program which includes the EO 360° Assessment and Report, 4 Live Instructor-Led Training Webinars and One-On-One Coaching. Learn more here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn professionals into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the author the upcoming book Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.