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In these troubled times a couple of clear messages have emerged. Firstly, the world — both the public one we share and our personal one — is in need of leadership. And secondly, the one area where we are all lacking has to be conflict resolution.

Of course there is a very strong tip in all of this for anyone constructing a career — be an expert of leadership and conflict resolution.

Countries, workplaces, families and relationships all need to solve their problems. And it goes without saying that truly great leaders — and that means employers, managers, sports captains, parents and role models — need to show their followers how to fix up the problems they have with one another.

Now I know some of you might be asking why that interfering smart alec — Peter Switzer — is moving so far outside his business expertise area, but the bottom line is that dysfunctional people lead to unproductive workplaces and very sad families.

It gets even worse, when these poorly trained people who can’t sort out their differences then find themselves led by second-rate leaders. It can end up in shocking calamities.

I know I share the same problem as everyone else that we just don’t know how to tell the truth effectively. Yeah, we’ve all tried it, albeit badly, and it has blown up in our face.

You’ve told a relation or work colleague that their behaviour bothers you or has hurt you and they blow up and the relationship is never the same. Experience then tells you not to try that again and you now have embarked on a life of subterfuge and cover ups.

This, of course, gives rise to grudges, backstabbing and a general lack of development. For a relationship, just like a business, it is unproductive.

Great businesses are headed up by great leaders, who put time and money into training their staff to build up their endowment of valuable qualities, and the superior results follow.

I have said this before that when people in corporations are asked what they want to learn more about the topic of leadership regularly comes out on top.

One of the most read business books of all time, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, supports my case. The author, Stephen Covey, is the chairman of the Covey Leadership Centre. Now, I know how we laugh at Americans starting centers and institutes named after themselves, but if you can get past this very Australian piece of cynicism you will note the key word ‘leadership’ in Covey’s business name.

Norman Brinker, chairman Emeritus of Brinker International, summed up Covey and his book. “Stephen Covey has had an enormous impact on many of the most dynamic businesses in this country. No one can read this book and not become both a better person and leader if he can follow the principles laid out in this book.”

At times like these the goal has to be to get a lot more better people and better leaders who can resolve conflicts in much better ways. If it can’t be done easily on the international stage, let’s get it happening at the local business and personal levels.

Be a Leader, not a manager

Take a tip from the leaders’ leader, Jack Welch, the ex-boss of General Electric, the biggest company in the world. At a time when the world has been consumed with the need for leadership, when US president George W Bush talked to business leaders at the height of the drama of September 11, Jack Welch was there giving his words of wisdom.

Welch advised: “The world of the ‘90s and beyond will not belong to ‘managers’ or those who can make the numbers dance. The world will belong to passionate, driven leaders — people who not only have enormous amounts of energy, but who can energise those whom they lead.” (Jack Welch Speaks: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest Business Leader by Janet Lowe, Wiley & Sons Inc. 1998.)

Once asked about the ideal leader, Welch replied: “Somebody who can develop a vision of what he or she wants their business unit, their activity to do and be. Somebody who is able to articulate to the entire unit what the business is, and gain through a sharing of discussion – listening and talking – an acceptance of the vision. And (someone who) then can relentlessly drive implementation of that vision to a successful conclusion.”

On small company leaders his view was certain: “In small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone.”

And on the eccentricity of leaders, Welch was surprising: “One of the things about leadership is that you cannot be a moderate, balanced, thoughtful, careful articulator of policy. You’ve got to be on the lunatic fringe.”

Published on: Saturday, June 13, 2009

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