“Therefore, it is key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict, and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be. This can be a challenge because many leaders feel that they are somehow failing in their jobs by losing control of their teams during conflict. Finally, as trite as it may sound, a leader’s ability to personally model appropriate conflict behavior is essential. By avoiding conflict when it is necessary and productive—something many executives do—a team leader will encourage this dysfunction to thrive.”
Patrick Lencioni, Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Rabbi Daniel Alter, head of school, Moriah School, Englewood, NJ:
Unmanaged conflict in a school environment can prove dangerous when faculty have not been prepared for the type of culture Lencioni describes. School faculty tend to be sensitive, kind, caring and soft-spoken. The messy conflict that he describes will cause extreme upset and can fracture relationships. Modeling appropriate conflict behavior is insufficient. A school leader must have an open conversation about the culture of debate and conflict that he or she is looking to nurture, and work with his or her team to develop norms, rules and expectations. Then they can scaffold the lesson of how to manage conflict by debriefing following both successful and unsuccessful conflicts to determine what was helpful, what was a waste of time, and what caused hurt and anger.
Daniella Pressner, director of Jewish studies, Akiva School, Nashville:
As leaders, we are often more willing to be vulnerable and take risks after having opportunities to observe masters at work. One of the most important lessons I learned from coach Larry Levine, who introduced me to Bruce Tuckman’s work on group formation, was not only to be knowledgeable about the stages that teams experience (forming, storming, norming, performing, termination/ending) but to expect them. In situations where I proactively share that conflict will be inevitable, uncomfortable and hopefully productive, teams are more willing to commit to working through the discomfort for the greater vision. Very early in my educational career, I had the opportunity to observe the way that Rabbi Dov Lerea directed groups at Camp Yavneh, a pluralistic camp in Massachusetts. Dov created the vision for what pluralistic living at camp would look like and worked with people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs to make this happen. Camps are filled with passion, tension and conflicting needs, and Dov’s willingness to state the discomfort helped move groups through difficult processes that proved to be transformational for the individuals involved and for the camp as a whole. Thanks to these teachers, I am more willing to embrace conflict and struggle because I can now trust both the process and the people. Perhaps more importantly, I have had opportunities to witness the powerful changes that occur when conflict is allowed to materialize and mature.
Rabbi Micah Lapidus EdD, director of Hebrew and Jewish studies, Davis Academy, Atlanta:
Lencioni’s observation regarding personal modelling of appropriate conflict behavior is anything other than “trite.” In fact, it presents a real challenge that leaders do well to embrace. Conflict is, by its very nature, emotionally charged. Cultivating the presence of mind and spirit to look closely at one’s own tendencies and patterns during conflict requires serious work. Few of us are born with the intuitive knowledge of how to navigate the many conflicts that emerge over the months and years. One way that leaders can earn and keep the respect of others is by cultivating this knowledge and modelling it.
Merrill Hendin, head of school, Portland Jewish Academy, Portland, OR:
As we embark on our self-study toward reaccreditation and look at a re-envisioning of our middle school, the word “messy” reverberates for me. Our administrative team talks a great deal about allowing for the mess—which might mean that we may not all be comfortable in a conversation and may have to agree to disagree; that we will be challenged to maintain our strong Jewish values and identity, while ensuring that we are innovative, engaging and diverse. Realizing that these things are not mutually exclusive, that our middot can help guide us through the process and that difficult and tricky issues may come up, is all a part of the bigger process of collaboration and Jewish engagement. We must always keep the mission of the school and the students at the center. Modeling the idea of thinking for one’s self and working for the world, a statement which stands at the foundation of who we are at PJA, helps us understand that sometimes one has to get messy in order to effect positive change.