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Healthy Conflict is Good for Business

Disagreement is a natural part of human interaction. Make sure it works for you.

Monique Verduyn




Debates, differences, disagreements and arguments all play a vital role in the workplace. According to Robert Townsend, professor of Economics at MIT: “A good manager doesn’t try to eliminate conflict; he tries to keep it from wasting the energies of his people. If you’re the boss and your people fight you openly when they think that you are wrong – that’s healthy.”

Indeed, healthy conflict is a feature of an effective meeting. It’s also an indication of commitment and caring. Think about the really passionate people in your team who speak up and argue their points. They are engaged and invested in the outcome. But we’ve probably all been in situations where people get ugly, personal and so emotional they can’t focus on the issues at hand. It’s not healthy and it doesn’t work. Healthy conflict, on the other hand, leads to lively meetings that extract all opinions, solve problems quickly, minimise the politics and put critical topics on the table. To argue effectively, shouting is not an option. Developing a controlled, just-the-facts approach to arguing helps you remember that you are on the same team and that everyone deserves to be heard.

Conflict management tool

One tool that’s proven effective in many businesses is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument or TKI. It’s designed to measure a person’s behaviour in ‘conflict situations’, defined as those in which the concerns of two people appear to be incompatible. In such situations, an individual’s behaviour can be described in two basic ways: Assertiveness – the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy his own concerns; and co-operativeness – the extent to which the person attempts to satisfy the other person’s concerns.

Five response modes

The two basic dimensions of behaviour define five different modes for responding to conflict situations:

  1. Competing: assertive and unco-opertive
  2. Accommodating: unassertive and co-operative
  3. Avoiding: unassertive and unco-operative
  4. Collaborating: assertive and co-operative
  5. Compromising: moderately assertive and co-operative

Your conflict behaviour in the workplace is a result of both your personal predispositions and the requirements of the situation in which you find yourself. According to the TKI, each of us is capable of using all five conflict-handling modes. None of us can be characterised as having a single style of dealing with conflict. But certain people use some modes better than others and therefore, tend to rely on those modes more heavily than others – whether because of temperament or practice. Understanding these ways of dealing with conflict can help you have a conversation about how you can work toward collaborating or compromising in an argument rather than competing, avoiding or always accommodating (which can lead to underlying resentment).

What’s your conflict mode?

Take the TKI online. The test costs US$30 per person, including a personalised PDF report for each respondent within 48 hours.
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Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Why Inspiration Alone Is Not Enough To Be An Inspiring Leader

Strong leaders unlock higher performance by empowering people.

Tiaan Moolman and Eric Garton



Inspirational Leadership

When employees aren’t just engaged, but inspired, that’s when organisations see real breakthroughs. Inspired employees are themselves far more productive and, in turn, inspire those around them to strive for greater heights.

Our research shows that while anyone can become an inspiring leader (they’re made, not born), in most companies, there are far too few of them. In employer surveys that we conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit, we found that less than half of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that their leaders were inspiring or were unlocking motivation in employees. Even fewer felt that their leaders fostered engagement or commitment and modelled the culture and values of the corporation.

To understand what makes a leader inspirational, Bain & Company launched a new research programme, starting with a survey of 2 000 people. What we found surprised us. It turns out that inspiration alone is not enough. Just as leaders who deliver only performance may do so at a cost that the organisation is unwilling to bear, those who focus only on inspiration may find that they motivate the troops but are undermined by mediocre outcomes. Instead, inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions — and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make A Great Leader

Here are some of our additional findings about how leaders both inspire, and get, great performance.

You only need one truly ‘inspiring’ attribute

We asked survey recipients what inspired them about their colleagues. This gave us a list of 33 traits that help leaders in four areas: Developing inner resources, connecting with others, setting the tone and leading the team:

  • Stress tolerance, self-regard and optimism help leaders develop inner resources
  • Vitality, humility and empathy help leaders connect
  • Openness, unselfishness and responsibility help set the tone
  • Vision, focus, servanthood and sponsorship help them lead.

We found that people who inspire are incredibly diverse, which underscores the need to find inspirational leaders that are right for motivating your organisation — there is no universal archetype. A corollary of this finding is that anyone can become an inspirational leader by focusing on his or her strengths.

Although we found that many different attributes help leaders inspire people, we also found that you need only one of them to double your chances of being an inspirational leader. Specifically, ranking in the top 10% in your peer group on just one attribute nearly doubles your chance of being seen as inspirational. However, there is one trait that our respondents indicated matters more than any other: Centeredness. This is a state of mindfulness that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathise, listen deeply and remain present.

Your key strength has to match how your organisation creates value

Effective leadership isn’t generic. To achieve great performance, companies need a leadership profile that reflects their unique context, strategy, business model and culture — the company’s unique behavioural signature. To win in the market, every company must emphasise the specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.

We found that the same is true of leaders: They must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those ‘spikes’ must be relevant to the way that the company creates value. For example, an organisation that makes its money out-marketing the competition isn’t likely to be inspired by a leader whose best talent is cost management. Spiky leaders achieve great performance by obsessing about the specific capabilities that underpin their company’s competitive advantage. They make sure those capabilities get an outsized, unfair share of resources and provide the key players the freedom they need to continue to excel.

Related: 15 Of South Africa’s Business Leaders’ Best Advice For Your Business

You have to behave differently if you want your employees to do so

Even with a clear idea of your company’s winning behavioural signature, leaders need to develop new ways of operating. We found that leaders who both inspire people and generate results find ways to constructively disrupt established behaviours to help employees break out of culture-weakening routines.

Inspirational leaders recognise the need to pick their moments carefully to reinforce a performance culture in a way that can also be inspiring. These are real moments of leadership and truth. Two of our favourite, classic examples include:

  • When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO after a nearly eight-year hiatus, he realised that Starbucks’ unique customer-focused coffee experience was now in the back seat. In the front seat were automation and diversification, both implemented in pursuit of throughput and growth. Schultz took swift action to change the company’s direction; he even shut down 7 100 US stores for three hours on 26 February 2008 to retrain the baristas in the art of making espresso. In this highly symbolic move, he left no doubt about his intentions — and about what he thought it would take to make Starbucks great again.
  • When Alan Mulally came to Ford in 2006 to help turn around the business, he took bold actions to change the way the company operated. In one highly visible moment, he applauded Mark Fields (who would eventually become his successor) for admitting to a failure in an executive meeting. That was pretty much unheard of at Ford and it set the tone for the open and honest communications required for a new culture at the company.

While these are only single actions by leaders who are famous for producing both performance and inspiration, they provide a window into what inspirational leadership looks like.

Drawing insight from Eastern philosophy, one of our clients once said, “If you want to change the way of being, you have to change the way of doing.” This struck us as profound in the moment and even more profound over time — and the sentiment matches what we learnt in our research. Leaders can only change by doing things differently. The more often they behave in a new way, the sooner they become a new type of leader, an inspirational leader. We know that individual inspiration is the gateway to employee discretionary energy, and that, in turn, is critical to making the most of your scarcest resource — your human capital.

Leaders driving economic value

To win in the market, every company must emphasise the specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.

We found that the same is true of leaders: They must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those ‘spikes’ must be relevant to the way that the company creates value.

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4 Mistakes You’re Making That Can Jeopardise Your Reputation

Remember, your reputation precedes you.

Stacey Hanke




We take our careers very seriously. We pour a great deal of energy into cultivating relationships and growing a network of professionals we either work with or hope to. We spend countless hours combing through our online resumes and LinkedIn profiles, carefully ensuring they convey the utmost professionalism. We want to be taken seriously and be considered credible and influential at work. We look the part, practice our presentations, fine-tune our communication skills and polish our presence online and in person.

But, what happens when we are off the clock? How is our behaviour when we are at a restaurant with friends, on vacation with family or simply out of the office? How many times have we run a personal errand and bumped into someone unexpectedly?

Our reputation is built on us – both in and out of the office, in person and online. Professionals often forget that credibility is built on consistency; we can only be consistent in our behaviour when we are mindful every day and in every circumstance. Professionals too often become lazy when the spotlight is turned off. We don’t realise that people are watching. Employees, customers, prospects and peers are everywhere.

Here are four common mistakes professionals make, which call their reputation into question:

1. Social media socialises the real you

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more – these online social media platforms create a way for us to communicate with those we are connected to. We fail to realise that our reach doesn’t stop there. These mediums also communicate to the entire world who we are. Just because we sit behind a screen doesn’t mean we aren’t seen.

A 2017 study found that 70 percent of employers use social media to review potential candidates. This number has increased 11 percent in the past 10 years, proving now more than ever that professionals who wish to manage their reputation must be mindful of what they post.

Related: The Importance Of Business Reputation

Political commentary, strong opinions, excessive personal information and activities may cast our reputation in a negative light. Even when we have the best intentions, posts and comments can be easily misconstrued. If there is any doubt, don’t post it. Posts should be informative, educational or inspiring. If they fail to convey a message kindly, refrain from sharing them altogether.

2. Personal time is just professional time off the clock

We all deserve to let our hair down when we step out of the office. We must remember, however, someone is always watching and that we must protect our professional reputation. Behavior that causes others to question our authenticity can jeopardize our professional reputation. For instance, loud and rowdy behavior with friends during happy hour doesn’t convey professionalism but may leave others wondering who we are.

Credibility is built on consistency. When your behaviour is consistent in and out of the office, people will trust that is the real you. We’ve all heard the old saying, “It’s a small world.” It feels even smaller the moment we are anything but our best self and we run into someone we wish to impress. Be mindful and know that everyone is everywhere.

3. You’re in the spotlight even when you’re not on stage

Communication begins before you step on stage. Others determine who you are based on collective experiences and interactions with you when you aren’t in the spotlight. How you communicate in the office and in casual conversations is what will shape your reputation, not the moments you step on stage. How you behave and interact with peers determines your level of influence and the trust they have in you as a professional.

Did you know 92 percent of people act upon the recommendation of others – even if they don’t know them? People talk, and others listen. How you treat your employees is how they will treat your customers. If you fail to communicate with consistency, those you influence will fail to do so, too. Be clear and concise in all communications – whether it’s a high-stakes meeting or a casual hallway conversation. Focus on your body language and be an active, intentional listener. When you make others a priority, they will do the same for you and those who matter most to your success.

Related: Richard Branson on Building a Strong Reputation

4. It’s not a brand management campaign; it’s a way of life

Our modern-day world doesn’t allow us to compartmentalise our lives. In today’s age of online observation, our reputations are broadcast for the world to see, which directly affects our bottom line. Consider some highly regarded corporate names. It’s likely their reputations are well managed. They are consistent in their messaging and delivery. They walk their talk throughout all aspects of their brand: from online profiles to customer-facing employees. Now consider companies that have struggled with their reputation. They have likely suffered from inconsistencies in their customer experience, marketing campaign, executive behaviour and employee interactions.

Individual professional reputations are no different than major corporations. In fact, they are one of the most significant concerns major companies face. In a survey of executives, 87 percent said the risk to their reputation was a higher priority to their bottom line, more so than any other strategic danger their company faced.

Fact is, professionals cannot manage their reputation through a one-time branding campaign. We must develop it through consistent behaviours that create trust in those who know and observe us. We can’t just say something is important; our actions must reflect it. We can’t tell employees to invest time and energy in customers but then fail to do the same for them. Reputations aren’t built on a “do what I say, not as I do” mentality. Consistency is key to credibility.

This article was originally posted here on

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How To Run Your Business Like A Marathon

Dig deep to find staying power and work strategically to win the most important marathon of your life – succeeding at your own business.




Small businesses are considered the growth engines of our economy. It is estimated that small- to medium-sized businesses’ contribution to South Africa’s GDP is well over 50%, and our contribution to employment is around 60%.

Owning your own business can be as an exciting, empowering, but also daunting, experience than running the Comrades Marathon. It is hard work and you may want to give up at some stage. Be prepared for this. Dig deep to find staying power and work strategically to win the most important marathon of your life – succeeding at your own business.

It’s not a Sprint

As entrepreneurs we are running a marathon, not a 100 m sprint. It requires thorough preparation for the long journey. We need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills that keep us moving forward; otherwise we will be disqualified. And unlike most marathons, we are not competing against anyone else (even though we will have competition in business). Managing your own business is more about running your own race, at your own pace, with your own purpose.

Be your own cheerleader

We will have doubts during the race, but we will get over these hurdles because of the encouragement of the achievement of others. Look around you – witness others who are running alongside you, with similar or even more challenges than you. Think of those who have completed the race ahead of you – business success stories are truly inspirational. Follow your business idols on social media, read their books, go for coffee with a friend who owns his or her own business – let their journeys motivate and inspire you to greater heights.

Related: 21 Steps To Start-Up

Keep your eye on the prize

We have to dispose of the things that hinder and distract us during our race. Regularly review the causes of non-delivery or losses in your business. Don’t be scared to question the reasons until you have found the root cause. In prioritising your business now, you are bound to reap the rewards at the finishing line.

Exercise focus in your business

South African athlete, Wayde van Niekerk, is testimony of the importance of focus. He had to let go of different distance races to concentrate on the 400m, with the result that he reached a world record at the Olympics. You cannot be good at everything – choose your focus or core business. Too many small businesses fail because they don’t have a definite focus. Don’t let poor decision-making or greed cloud your unique selling point.

Build your trophy cabinet

We have to remain relevant – always on top of what is happening in our respective industry and the needs of customers. This will require more than one race to run. We live in a highly competitive environment with customers looking for convenient solutions that will provide maximum return on investment. Once you complete your first race, don’t just sit back and relax – set the next goal in your business. Let growth be the constant motivator in your business.

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