TKI Slide 2020

This question was raised by a student in a recent doctoral seminar on the relationship between leadership and management that I contributed to the Global Leadership Ph.D. program at Troy University.

A model I find helpful in thinking about this question is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Model, a model no-doubt many readers are familiar with.

In essence, the model – see image below – proposes five conflict handling preferences on two dimensions: “Coperativeness”, the degree to which you have regard to others’ needs, and “Assertiveness”, the degree to which you pursue your own needs.

Before applying the model, a brief word about leadership and management, each of which I think about as forms of actions for dealing with problems.

When in “management-mode” we’re seeing a problem as essentially technical in that it can be understood and acted upon from a single direction. We’re focused on task action, getting the work done, and on the more explicit/concrete aspects of the problem. The authority we bring to the situation is what gives us legitimacy to act.

“Leadership-mode” action, on the other hand, involves relational action, thinking together, to build shared understandings about current realities and preferred futures (purpose and vision) to draw forth energy and action for change with a contentious issue. Leadership is emergent, involves risk, requires individual and collective action, and is grounded in conversation and experimentation.

Now one of the Thomas Kilmann preferences reflects leadership-oriented action and the other four indicate management. I suspect you guessed which one is associated with leadership! Only Collaborating implies the kinds of exploratory, meaning-making for action necessary for leadership, at least when understood from a practice perspective.

Competing, Compromising, Accommodating and Avoiding all have a more tactical orientation, helping us pursue our own interests (even if that means letting the other party ‘win this one’, as with accommodating, or opting out of the conflict, as with avoiding).

Collaborating might have broad appeal as an approach though doing it in practice is hard and messy work – as is any venturing into undertaking leadership.

Thanks Dr. Dionne Rosser-Mims and your thoughtful doctoral student group!

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