Conflict might be the result of your leadership style

The Shrinking Church
Leadership Thoughts for Reversing the Trend


Prologue and Introduction: Intent  and  PurposeThe Shrinking Church

This thread of articles is for clergy and leaders of mainline protestant churches. The purpose is to recognize systemic dysfunctions and leadership gaps that are limiting the effectiveness of the local church and many times are in the way of true and effective ministries. For the full statement, see Post #1 of the ongoing series. The intent is to promote dialogue through, and awareness of, possibilities for growing healthy ministries of any kind.


Post #6:
Got Conflict? By the Way, Did You Cause It?

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. – Henry Ford


Got Conflict?

We are called into service as individuals, but we work in community in teams–both formal and informal. Whether we work on large teams, small teams, or on short-term projects or ongoing programs, does not matter. The tension between creative energy and routine is a balance that effective leaders must manage. Each team member has a responsibility to the rest of the team. The team leader must know and maintain the best group processes.

I spend my time working with leaders building energized teams that reach decisions through synergy and consensus. The journey plays out differently in each situation. However, the basic routine consists of exploration, discussion, refinement, debate, reflection, listening, and consenting to the best decision for the group’s needs. These steps are more difficult for some team members than others. There are many reasons why this is true.


How to see potential conflict

Look for early warning signals that relationships are about to get into trouble. Do not wait. Do not go into denial. Conflict appears for many reasons. Basically, it is a disruption that comes as a result of broken expectations and creates a disruption in stable relationships. The dictionary description is as follows: Conflict – a disagreement or clash between ideas, principles, or people’s psychological state resulting from the often unconscious opposition between simultaneous but incompatible desires, needs, drives, or impulses.

Broken expectation is a principle that is at the root of much staff conflict. If we do not receive what we expected, there is a level of disappointment. When these expectations are not met, there is conflict. When expectations are not clearly articulated in advance, trouble is ahead. Putting off addressing expectations makes the situation worse. Letting the situation continue increases the stress. When something is wrong, pay the “upfront cost” by dealing with it promptly. The “cost,” in terms of loss of relationship and difficulty in dealing with the situation, will only increase exponentially. Act on the earliest signal that something is not right.

Layers Underneath Conflict

The layers underneath conflict are as follows:

  1. Behavior – how we act toward each other, both intentionally and unintentionally
  2. Patterns – ways a conflict repeats can create an identifiable pattern–look for how the conflict shows up and with whom. Find identifiable patterns – define how long it has been going on and with whom
  3. Values – ways individual rights and values can be violated or compromised
  4. Belief System – what we have been taught is our internal belief system, which guides our actions. Define from where the learned style of dealing with conflict comes (parents, boss, peer group, etc.). Learned systems can be the cause of unintentional actions.

Leaders often set up conflict unintentionally. Here are some of the causes I observe:

  • Expectations – When expectations are assumed but not clearly articulated in writing, then this is a formula for conflict. We might have a general idea of the desired outcomes when creating a verbal agreement; however, seeing the written outcomes helps to validate that each person has heard and understood the facts the same way. We also might forget the exact terms of the verbal agreement or the terms might get confused over time.
  • Accountabilities – Not having mechanisms for accountability weaken any agreement and ultimately make the agreement worth nothing. When accountabilities are missing, the leader is at fault.
  • Micromanagement – Delegation is assigning a task and getting out of the way. When the leader asks a team member to manage a task, then there’s a transfer of authority to that person. Assigning a task and then managing all the details is not delegation. Improper and incomplete delegation is a top cause of dissatisfaction and anxiety.
  • Follow-Up – Assigning a task and then not having any interaction until the due date is risky. The effective leader assigns tasks and then defines touchpoints along the way for a check-in. This is mentoring and not micromanaging. Falling to have a system for mentoring leaves too much room for the team member to go astray, and then there’s a potential course correction that could be severe enough to cause friction.

    Resolution Begins with Self-Awareness


Ways to build relationships and reduce conflict

Develop Team “Norms”

A very helpful and effective way to prevent unnecessary conflict is to establish a “Team Covenant” for a formal team that works together for the long term.

Define Your Roles

Another essential tool is the Role Renegotiation Model, defined and taught by John J. Sherwood and John C. Glidewell in their time-proven methods included in the 1971 article, “Planned Renegotiation: A Norm-Setting OD Intervention.” In their concept of shared information and negotiating expectations, they explain that for long-term relationships, parties should trade information and establish expectations. Then a commitment to these shared expectations takes place.

Build Participation

Dr. Larry Dill, Executive Director of The Institute for Clergy Excellence and long-time United Methodist minister, says that listening is an important leadership skill. As senior pastor, he insists that listening to each member of the team gives energy and unity to creative teams. He adds that it is essential to let good ideas live. Some leaders are controlling by nature, training and tradition, which may not allow them to solicit ideas from team members. Controlling leaders have trouble building teams. Dill adds that it may be easier for some leaders to change training rather than nature or tradition. He leads groups that establish their own creative learning programs.

Some Conflict is Healthy

Dr. Will Willimon, author of over 50 books and noted public speaker, notes that some leaders might think that conflict is bad. Rather, it is a sign of energy in the staff. Perhaps conflict is a sign that the staff is doing their job well. When working with teams, I ask them to reframe conflict and disagreement from being weapons and to perceive them as creative tools.


Triangles are the basic building block for human relationships. Triangles are when there are three people in a relationship. Triangles are neither good nor bad – they just are. Triangles sometimes have one person on the outside when the other two are strongly connected, causing tension.


Believe it or not, bad meetings cause conflict! Boring, unproductive meetings are the primary killer of effective teams. There are many meeting concepts that work. Not having a meeting strategy is the source of conflict. Wasting the time of participants is the formula for dysfunction. Get my program “Conducting Power-Packed Meetings” at

Basically, the effective transformational leader continues to develop skills and systems for higher functioning. This is by no means a full treatment of conflict empowerment. My hope is that it would acquaint you with the pathways to self-management and lower the damage surrounding conflict.


Get my ebook, “Creating and Sustaining Healthy Teams: Preventing and Managing Team Conflict” HERE.

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Hugh Ballou

The Transformational Leadership StrategistTM

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(c) 2022, Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.

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