Monday, July 21, 2008

Leading through conflict

Phase 1: Awareness
Good leaders keep abreast of conflicts. They don’t just have their heads in the clouds as dreamers, or in the sand as cowards. Rather, they keep aware of the conditions their people face, and recognize that conflict is part of the normal business of life. In Joshua 22, it’s apparent that the leadership of Israel “knew the condition of their flock” (Prov. 27:23) because they quickly gathered to take action on the perceived threat of the new altar.

Phase 2: Assessment
Good leaders interpret the seriousness of conflicts. They don’t immediately go to war, even though most people opt for an over-the-top response (22:11-12). Experts tell us there are four levels of conflict: a) Facts...disagreement over raw data; b) Methods...disagreement on how to act on the facts; c) Goals...disagreement on what we should aim for; and d) Values...disagreement on the deepest principles of life. In Joshua 22, the people perceive a level 4 conflict. In reality, it’s level 1 or 2.

Phase 3: Allegation
Good leaders confront in conflicts. In this case, Phinehas and a team of 10 men are sent to investigate the case of the altar and to confront their brothers on their divisive action (22:13-20). Their accusations are strong—maybe too strong—but at least they are direct. They don’t beat around the bush or soft-pedal their concerns. They speak directly to the heart of the problem as they perceive it.

Phase 4: Apology
Good leaders listen in conflicts. In this case, “apology” doesn’t refer to confession of wrongdoing, but an explanation and justification of one’s actions (as in “apologetic). The two and half tribes explain their building of the altar, while Phineas and his team listen (22:21-29).

Phase 5: Affirmation
Good leaders affirm others as conflicts are resolved. Phineas is pleased with the explanation and affirms the faith of the two and half tribes. Then he returns to his people and shares a good report (22:30-33). He knows when to let go of the conflict and how not to inflame further ill will by bad-mouthing his former opponent.

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