Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Engaging Conflict: a Leadership Necessity?

War is Peace1984 -- George Orwell

I would rather have a general who was lucky than one who was good.
– Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Epee of Europe

Dilemmas. Leadership offers an incumbent realms of opportunity; and, also, realms of temptation. It is in the interests of the followership (and, also, of the disinterested) to hold leadership in rein. But it is natural, even necessary, for leadership to strain against it. The priorities of leadership and followership not infrequently butt heads. (See A Leader's Primary Pursuit: Incumbency)

Leadership as “Service.”
"The king is foremost the servant ... of the State.“ -- Frederic II, King of Prussia (1712 - 1786)
Incumbent candidates of all kinds support their proposal of incumbency with often not too subtle threats. A traditional approach is to claim a “servant’s” role to some widely “honored”, if fuzzy, goal or person, for example, Servant of God, Servant of The People, Servant of Justice, Servant of Peace.

As such, a Servant-Leader, the proposed incumbent promises to clarify, pursue and actualize the “Will” (or “True Meaning”} of God, People, Justice or Peace.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21

Why “God” Needs a “Devil.” It is the real or imagined threat of conflict that disciplines a “distractable” followership into supporting incumbency. The normal inclinations of people to go about their own business, giving only lip-service to the proposals of authority, tend to undermine that authority or lower its esteem.

Leaders looking to use their organization as an agency of change have to carefully distinguish between members who are marginal, those who are interested and those who are zealots. It really makes a difference. (See Assessing the Likelihood of Implementing Change )

So it is that “natural” priorities, e.g. attention to personal physical needs, to personal gain, to individual interests, or to ties to family, friends, or neighbors have to be demonized, if only minimally lowered in esteem, as “distractions” from pursuit of “nobler” goals, i.e. those goals “clarified” by the would-be incumbent. People must be “educated” to resist the “temptations” of such “selfish distractions.”

So it is that all over the world, Societies send out Teachers to Educate the Intellectually and Morally Underdeveloped so as to reduce Discord, Crime and Corruption.
The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. Matthew 13:41

Conflict: A Balm for Incumbents? Louis Coser identifies several important functions of conflict.
a. Conflict makes connection. It is a basic form of exchange and interaction. It is a negotiation.

b. Conflict among groups sharpens their exterior boundaries.

c. Conflict among groups revitalizes traditions and norms.

d. Information gathering, reconnaissance, is a function of conflict.

e. Conflict among groups causes their replication of each other, a balance of structure and functions which may encourage formation of similar markets and power centers.

Generally often overlooked issues are several:
1. Who, specifically, benefits from these outcomes of conflict?

2. Who, specifically, pays the costs?

3. Does the leadership and followership share benefits in some fair proportion to the costs borne by them?

4. Why do incumbents tend to resist raising such issues?

The Moral Hazards of Leadership that strives to be heroic are unavoidable. But they can be dealt with. There are enough extant conflicts in the world to provide many an incumbent with opportunities for heroic leadership. (See LEADERSHIP vs. MORALITY: AN UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT?)

The dangerous temptation is for the incumbent to create conflict merely to protect his or her own incumbency with little regard for those whom he or she leads. History has long shown this to be a not uncommon hazard. Leaders not infrequently tend to seek out, if not create, what they can present to their followers as an unavoidable conflict -- often prettified nowadays with the label, "challenge."

And inept, uninformed leaders generally end up being either just lucky, or, more frequently, losers. Much more so their followers. (See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?)

For examples and to examine these issues further in a widely presumed less important, less turbulent context, see The Functions of Conflict in the Context of Schooling )

--- EGR