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​Why you need to be a master of managing conflict

​Why you need to be a master of managing conflict

CIOs do need to gain experience in how to manage conflicts that will invariably happen, says David Gee

As a CIO, you’re in the conflict zone. This doesn’t mean you are looking for an argument or trouble – but that you are naturally working with change and transformation.

This means that your boss and peers are under pressure as you are to perform. The truth is that individuals are never 100 per cent aligned around objectives and behind this is that it is unlikely to have absolute clarity. As a leader working when there is ambiguity is a trait that is highly regarded and sought after.

The issue is when there is ambiguity and the interpretation of leaders is different. Invariably, this can lead to conflict.

No longer a back-office role

The CIO is often working in new business focus areas such as digital or business analytics. In these circumstances, there is a great expectation that the CIO will be a strong leader to take the enterprise into a different strategic plane.

It is no longer a back-office position and what is expected is that you can help drive these changes and manage the process of taking this transformation into reality.

Being able to step up and take this accountability will not be easy. What happens is that this will create some natural tension with other leaders. Both you and your own team members will need to understand how to manage this conflict.

As American preacher, Max Lucado once said: “Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.”

Why fight?

This is not about wanting to combative, but the reality is that in most enterprises there is a high priority of regulatory and compliance projects – which get the first bite of the cherry, then the strategic projects and then core IT projects.

There is always going to be someone who feels that they are missing out in getting attention and their fair share of resources. As the CIO, you have this on your shoulders and while you want to avoid ‘shadow IT’ this is often a by-product of this situation.

So what are you going to do to work through this?

Masters in conflict management

I’m not sure that you need to take this as a serious qualification but you do need to gain experience in how to manage conflicts that will invariably happen. How you step up to the plate yourself is important but what is also apparent is that your own team needs to learn how to manage through this.

My view is that this is a fantastic group development opportunity for the CIO offsite and while it can be provocative, it is necessary and will provide the team with tools to work with.

One of the best that I have come across is the FYI book, published by Korn Ferry, which is practical and comprehensive. The book lists behaviours that are reflective of the unskilled and skilled leader in conflict management.

Take the test

So take the test below - do you and your team members have more ticks in the ‘skilled’ or ‘unskilled’ section? First, just imagine the team or a member trying to manage your way through a cost cutting project without provoking others.

Alternatively, how they would effectively run an ‘after action review’ of a failed project? These are necessary tasks that as leaders we have to perform and doing these without creating more negativity is the best outcome:


  • Avoids conflict
  • Gets upset, takes it personally
  • Gives in and says yes too soon
  • Let’s thing fester
  • Too competitive and has to always win
  • Accommodate others to get along


  • Reads the situation
  • Looks for common ground
  • Can hammer out a tough agreement
  • Steps up to conflicts

Are you a master or apprentice?

The good news is that you can learn to get better at managing conflicts. Trying to avoid doing that is a recipe for disaster, at least being competent will help you and your team to navigate through the day.

Most important is that you recognise if this is a weakness and take measures to ensure it does not become an issue.

David Gee is the former CIO of CUA where he recently completed a core banking transformation. He has more than 18 years' experience as a CIO, and was also previously director at KPMG Consulting. Connect with David on LinkedIn.

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