Don’t Smooth Things Over

Courageous leaders don’t smooth things over. They don’t put band-aids on the symptoms of a problem. They don’t pretend “things” are okay when they know darn well they are not and they never ever expect that a problem will just fix itself. 

 

What courageous leaders do is make things right, even if sometimes that means plunging headfirst into conflict. 

 

There are and have been many a great leader who preferred to avoid conflict when possible but I can’t think of a single truly great leader from the past or present who avoids conflict at all costs. 

 

The most effective leaders know that “smoothing over” a problem isn’t much different than burying it under a rock. Sooner or later someone comes along and turns the rock over exposing the problem with all it’s rough edges on display once again. 

 

Weaker leaders avoid conflicts because to them conflict means emotionally charged turmoil and fights and disruption and drama. In the hands of a weak leader that’s probably true.

 

Under the guidance of an Authentic Leader, especially an Authentic Servant Leader, a conflict represents the opportunity for genuine learning and long-term growth. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders meet conflict head-on with the compassion, integrity, and understanding that you would expect from such a leader. They know that the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it so they work diligently to lower relationship tension and the emotions that go with it. 

 

They lead the discussion with whatever facts are irrefutable to build common ground. They show empathy for every side of a conflict without minimizing the importance of anyone’s feelings. 

 

They want everyone involved in the situation to come out of it with their self-esteem and the conflict gone. 

 

When that works it’s a great accomplishment. But the truth is it doesn’t always work. 

 

When it doesn’t work the Authentic Servant Leader sets aside the Authentic Servant part and simply leads. If forced, they impose a solution that ends the conflict. They decide! They take action! That may mean some really bad stuff happens to someone involved in the conflict but the conflict is resolved and it’s resolved for good. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders do not allow conflict to linger. Conflicts are like an organizational cancer. Leaders should help diagnose and treat the conflict but if it can’t be treated it must be removed. That will likely result in some injured feelings. Authentic Servant Leaders understand that at least a part of their organization may require some time to heal from an imposed solution. They also know that needing a little time to heal is far better than dealing with a slow burning conflict that never ends.

 

I firmly believe in helping everyone in an organization feel valuable and in continually building their self-esteem. But in every case, in every single case, the good of the many must outweigh the good of the one. 


Dealing with conflict is one of the biggest challenges for a true leader but it’s one they don’t run from, in fact, the very best leaders run to it. 

True Leaders Lead Everyone

Most often we tend to think of the term leading as someone “higher up” in an organization leading people at a lower level of the organization. 

 

Too often we would be right.

 

True leadership is multi-directional. True leaders lead down, across, and sometimes up. True leaders even lead themselves at times. Because they know that a title or position doesn’t make them a leader they know that they can lead in every direction.

 

Leadership, at it’s core is influence. If you have the ability to influence others then you have the ability to lead. It doesn’t mean you will be a good leader, it doesn’t mean you will lead with noble intentions, and it doesn’t mean you’ll be successful as a leader. It’s simply means your influence will at least partially shape someone else’s thoughts or actions. 

 

If you’re only leading down it is quite possible that you are counting on your title or position to influence others. Titles and positions may buy you some time to demonstrate your level of influence but sooner or later, most often sooner, you will have to realize that’s it you, your experience, your integrity, your “brand” which will allow you to influence others long-term.

 

If you’re only leading down in your organization, it’s quite possible you’re not really leading at all. If you only have “influence” downwards in your organization then it may not be real influence. It may be fear or intimidation that causes your people to follow your wishes and you should be aware that following your wishes or “orders” and actually following you as a leader are two very different things. 

 

On the other hand, when leading across your organization, that is to lead others at your same level, you likely have very little other than your influence to shape their thoughts or actions. To lead up in your organization, that is to lead those at higher levels than your own, you have nothing but your influence to impact their thoughts and actions. 

 

But true leaders most definitely lead in every direction. They don’t count on titles or positions. They demonstrate solid, consistent leadership characteristics that earn them a high degree of influence. 

 

If you find yourself consistently impacting the behavior of those below you in your organization but never above you then that may be an indication that your leadership is limited to one direction. 

 

To lead in every direction, to lead everyone, forget about levels. Forget about titles and ignore positions. Do what is right, say what you mean, exert honest and professional influence with integrity to everyone around you. Some of those may be lower than you in the organization, some may be above you. 


None of that really matters because you’ll be making a difference in the right direction, no matter which direction it is.