We are all familiar with the tragic consequences of “friendly fire” on the battlefield. Unfortunately, many of us experience friendly fire in our organizations, resulting in wounded volunteers and with deadly consequences for our mission. What is conflict? What are the sources of conflict? Why does it matter? How, as leaders, will we address conflict in the ranks? Who will lead the effort?
Dr. Robert Kegan, renowned psychologist, says the origins of conflict begin within us as “conflicts of interests” commonly attached to needs, wants, values, and personal belief systems. Conflict (positive and negative) has its origins in personal power and how we use our power to navigate relationships. As we engage with others, we may or may not find common ground based on these interests, values, and/or beliefs.
We might ask ourselves what values, needs, and wants bring our American Legion Auxiliary volunteers to offer themselves up for service to our mission? The magic of healthy organizations lies in cultures with behaviors (norms) aligned and committed to shared values, meaning, and purpose that draw new members to the mission.
We must also be courageous enough to ask ourselves: What types of friendly fire leave our volunteers wounded … or worse yet, dead on the battlefield (membership attrition)? Well, our department presidents provided their insights in our October 2021 President’s Retreat. When asked to identify the top five sources of conflict on their watch, they answered: 1) personality conflicts, 2) power struggles in leadership, 3) bullying and jealousy (3 and 4 tied), and 5) resistance to change.
Closely following the top five causes are poor communication, lack of humility and patience, and disagreements over process or procedures. How do these sources of conflict affect or serve our members or our mission? We can all agree we do not want these behaviors to represent who we are or who we will be.
Why does addressing unresolved sources of conflict matter? Bottom line, it is a matter of psychology, physics, and ethics. We want to belong and matter. Our intent and purpose is “service and not self.” This is a source of energy or power at the heart of successful missions. Most of us really dislike the social and emotional costs of conflict as it robs us of our energy, belonging, and focus. Each ALA volunteer has finite time, energy, talent, skills, knowledge, and resources. Every measure of these qualities bound by conflict cannot be invested elsewhere (e.g., successful investment in, and execution of our mission).
What happens if these qualities volunteers bring to our mission are not honored, respected, and valued? Conflict deepens and becomes systemic as we build our armies (clichés), prepare our counterattacks (intensify conflict), or we retreat (leave the organization). Ethically, members join the ALA with an agreement to honor our constitution, bylaws, Code of Ethics, and at every meeting a commitment of our ethical obligations as recited in our Preamble: To maintain law and order. To promote peace and goodwill on Earth. To inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state, and nation. To consecrate and sanctify our association by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.
Conversely, poor ethical behaviors, hostility, and bullying as examples, wound individuals and compromise the ability of organizations to succeed. It’s impossible to execute the principles and actions of our Preamble for our veterans, their families, and the community when we do not honor these principles among our own. Our mission and our devotion to each other cannot consecrate or execute the sanctity of our mission if we are at war with each other. We must be courageous enough to protect our membership by holding those individuals who violate our Code of Ethics accountable.
How, as leaders will we address conflict in the ranks? The million-dollar question! The best measure of resolving conflict is to prevent conflict.
- Vigilant focus on our mission, vision, and values.
- Honoring diversity, equity, and inclusion (diversity includes personalities, viewpoints, experience, inexperience, rank/no rank, new vs. old members, etc.).
- Leaders teach, train, and mentor the ALA’s values. The most critical effort lies with leaders who “walk the talk” by modeling our values and ethics.
- ALA officers intervene in member/group conflict early, frequently, and justly.
- All members hold each other accountable to behave according to our values and principles.
Who will lead the effort? We all must! Resolving conflict is not the sole responsibility of leadership. It is our responsibility as members of our organization “to earn and protect the public’s trust in our performance to carry out the Auxiliary’s mission, uphold rigorous standards of conduct, and be good stewards of our resources. Our leaders (and members) are expected to abide by all laws and demonstrate their ongoing commitment to the core values of integrity, honesty, fairness, openness, responsibility and respect. Hostility and/or bullying are not honorable behaviors, nor representative of our core values. Resolving conflict is our duty to “maintain law and order.” How do we do so if we allow conflict to create chaos or cliques to drive members away? We don’t.
So, why must we deal with conflict in our organization? Our Preamble provides the answer. “To consecrate and sanctify our association by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.” Our veterans and the legacy and future of the ALA depend on our ability to do so.
By Leslie R. Rist, Ed.D.