How CEOs can turn conflict, dissent, and disagreement into a powerful tool for driving performance.
Chief executives most often work in a pressure-cooker atmosphere where two kinds of tension are present. The first kind is the natural tension that exists among top teams, in which talented, driven people who have to work together are also competing with one another for results, power, and stature. The other kind is performance tension: the stress caused by three pairs of important objectives that, in many companies, come into conflict on a daily basis. These are profitability versus growth, the short term versus the long term, and the success of the organization as a whole versus that of its individual parts. Over many years, we have worked with hundreds of CEOs as they confronted difficult situations, and we have observed that the most successful chief executives are the ones who get these tensions right. They have an uncanny ability to turn conflict, dissent, and disagreement into progress. Their mind-set is that having the “right fights” — embracing the right tensions and making them work for you — is the most effective way for companies and teams to move forward. As Brian Pitman, the former chief executive of Lloyds TSB, liked to put it: “You need real disagreement first to get true agreement later.”
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