They’re two admired leaders with vastly different leadership styles, but which one should you be taking lessons from when it comes to conflict management in senior teams: Napoleon or King Arthur?
Although Napoleon may be a well-respected leader, when it comes to managing conflict at a senior level and creating effective management teams, it may be best to take a page from King Arthur’s book.
Stanford Graduate School of Business carried out the research and found that “high-powered Napoleons”, often lash out at teammates who they consider to be a potential threat, regardless of the outcome for the company.
Lindred Greer, an assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford, explained that executives can prioritise their own goals and desires above those of others, and fail to take other people’s perspectives into account. And when these individuals are forced to work together as a team the issue is compounded as the threat posed by other ambitious personalities is maximised.
"Because power is so valued, people within reach of the top tier of an organisation will fight to retain their position at the top," Greer explained.
"We find the power conflicts in management teams are so common that teams you'd expect to be the best, such as management teams, can actually be less effective than those lower down on the organisational chart."
The research revealed that while in low-powered teams, having a hierarchy helps, in management teams, a hierarchy, such as vice presidents working with C-suite executives, or C-suite executives vying for the CEO slot, has the opposite effect. The study recommends companies look toward egalitarian models of management and leadership – “think King Arthur, not Napoleon” to avoid or minimise power struggles within their top teams.
“King Arthur, when faced with a council of ambitious knights, brought peace to his team by building a round table. In the medieval legend, each knight had a role to play: Sir Lancelot was the greatest champion, Sir Galahad was the purest of heart, Sir Gareth killed the Red Knight and so on,” Greer explained. “Organisations can reduce conflict within their management teams by following a path toward shared power and clear roles.”
To tackle the Napoleons at your organisation and install King Arthur’s leadership style, the Stanford Graduate School of Business recommends the following tips:
Define, discuss and reinforce roles Conflict can be minimised by clearly defining roles and continual reinforce of the roles and standings over time.
"If a departing CEO names a successor, fighting among the lower executive ranks who are eyeing the top spot might be reduced," Greer noted.
Recognising each team member’s expertise and deferring to it can also help ease tension as a person who feels confident in his or her role is less likely to feel threatened adds Greer.
Establish shared decision-making Shared decision making can be a tool for success as members of high-powered teams feel less threatened by other team members when decision-making is shared.
"Shared power reduces the real or perceived power differentials among members," Greer stated. "The concept of servant leadership may serve a CEO well here to help delegate decision-making."
Greer recommends using ‘democratic decision making style’ such as agreeing by consensus, or informal voting systems, to ensure everybody’s voices are heard.
Provide conflict training Management teams with training in conflict resolution are not only better at recognising the behaviour but addressing the underlying issues.
Greer stated that recognising which team members are engaged in a power struggle and resolving it quickly and respectfully is “artistry possessed by a few great leaders” and should be fostered with further training.