Don’t Avoid Turbulence

As a leader, do you try to avoid turbulence and conflict? Well, when I first learned to fly hang gliders, I wanted to avoid turbulence too. Smooth, stable air – that’s what I preferred. I waited for calm before I’d ever launch. My glide was usually gentle because of this preference. However, when you’re gliding, you’re slowly losing altitude and returning to earth. You can’t stay up – you can’t soar.

I wanted to stay aloft like the advanced pilots. Really, I wanted to soar above them.

One day, I got some advice from a fellow pilot, “If you want to soar, you have to fly in turbulence.”

At first, I didn’t understand. Rising air is in motion, and when some air rises, other air is sinking to take its place in the atmosphere. That makes it turbulent, yet it’s still full of potential to soar.

I began to study more advanced meteorology – the weather and thermals. I carefully watched the habits and patterns of the really good pilots. They knew what turbulence had the most potential for lift. They would fly through the downdrafts to get to the thermal inside. They would gain altitude and “sky out.” I could do that too.

Slowly, I started to fly in more and more turbulence – well-chosen turbulence, mind you. I learned how to find the thermals within the trashy air, and I discovered that I could soar. In fact, I was so light compared to male pilots, I could soar above them.

So, get to know your turbulence. Get to know conflict at work. Understand the elements of it. Make friends with it. Don’t avoid it – get better at learning how to use it. You’ll find opportunities there, too. Practice at conflict.

Remember the debate class in school? We were taught to take a side of an issue and argue convincingly for it. Our opponent argued the other side. Each side had the opportunity for an argument and a rebuttal. Why not resurrect that idea and reap the benefits that come from honing this skill? You could do it at a staff meeting. Start with something innocuous like “Which are better pets – dogs or cats?” As skills grow, introduce real office issues. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Encourage differing viewpoints, and give each proper attention.
  • Respect the other person (no name-calling, interruptions, etc.)
  • Set strict time limits for each argument and rebuttal.
  • Let people argue for their viewpoint at first.
  • Challenge people to argue the opposite viewpoint to stretch their perspective, increase their understanding and improve their skills.

The skills we practice are the skills at which we excel. Get better at dealing with conflict – and soar above the turbulence. You haven’t peaked yet!