We all know people who are so high maintenance that we want to run the other way when they approach. It seems that no issue is too small to complain about as they walk the halls or use digital space to vent. Less recognized are people at the opposite end of the spectrum who shun aggression so completely that it undermines their effectiveness. Some of the highest potential leaders suffer from this trait.
In working with executives, I encounter a significant number of them — even at the C-Suite — who behave this way. The pattern is very familiar. They are comfortable with one-on-one discussions, particularly if the discussions are not with superiors, but, in leadership team meetings, are not able to advocate for important outcomes. Instead, they state their position and then don’t push it further in the face of inevitable resistance. By doing this, they can give colleagues and superiors the impression that they lack executive presence.
These executives shy away from conflict because they are not comfortable with it and perceive themselves as not very good at it. When we give them personality assessments, the results will show that it is so energy-draining to engage in conflict that they just avoid it.
The best way to help executives address this predisposition is to provide them with an executive coach, starting with a 360 assessment process and a few key personality assessments. Inevitably, the 360 feedback will show much higher conflict resolution ability with subordinates than with the leadership team and superiors. The objective of the coaching is to get the executive comfortable with enough conflict at all levels to get recognized as a player and to advocate for important business outcomes.
A recent HBR blog piece, How to Pick Your Battles at Work, does a nice job laying out the criteria for areas where conflict makes sense. It provides a nice road map for executives who would like to understand which conflicts are worth the effort.