Book Launch for The Halpin Companies

book cover 11 11 2014_front only for printingThis afternoon, The Halpin Companies held a book launch for a project we’ve been hard at work on this summer and fall, Alignment for Success. Alignment for Success covers fundamentals of self-leadership and communication that leaders can use to build strongly aligned teams and organizations. It’s an excellent introduction to the coaching methodologies that The Halpin Companies have used to coach business to even greater levels of success for about twenty years now. I’ve worked on a number of projects for them since early 2007, and their leadership principles have profoundly affected me, my work, and my academic career.

Much of what I do for small businesses is confidential. It’s a challenge to tell people what I do, when I can only discuss much of it in the most general terms and can’t really show the final products of my work as a portfolio. So, it’s quite a thrill to be a part of the creation of this book and be able to show it off! Katharine, Bonnie, and I have put a lot of time and effort into this book, and we’re quite pleased with the results.

Working with authors is one of my favorite things to do, whether as writing coach, editor, collaborator, proofreader, or advisor on the process of book design and self-publishing. Since beginning Alignment for Success, I’ve also begun working with another author on a book about financial planning. We expect to have printed copies in his hands in January for a public speaking engagement. It’s exciting!

If you have a book in process or are considering writing one, let’s talk! I spend a lot of time doing academic research and writing, but I find projects like this one even more satisfying. Just visit my Contact Page and connect by phone or email.

Company Culture and Conflict

Company Culture and Conflict:
Seeking Collaborative Resolutions

Matthew Howard
Northern Arizona University

PAS 450: Leadership Concepts, Skills, and Models
February 15, 2013


Collaborative approaches to conflict resolution reduce major organizational dysfunction. In fact, one of the major areas of dysfunction is fear of conflict. Masters & Albright present a valuable lesson in the real goals of resolving conflict, as well as a cogent program for collaborating. Their nine-step model simplifies the process, though managers will find in practice that things do not always follow such a precise linear sequence. Managers must be willing to relinquish control as their teams resolve conflicts on their own. This frees up the manager for the big picture and strategy. But, it requires both training for the teams and personal development for the leader to create cultures where teams can successfully resolve their conflicts.

Conflict and Culture

Masters and Albright (2005) propose five goals of conflict resolution: Prevent escalation, focus on the real problem, avoid personalizing the argument, invent solutions, and build relationships (p. 583). To achieve these goals, they advocate not compromise but collaboration. A collaborative approach to resolving conflict solves many of the five ways teams become dysfunctional. They are, as proposed by Patrick Lencioni (2005): absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results (p. 607).

Each one of these problem areas benefits from building a culture of collaborative resolution. Consider Lencioni’s third area of dysfunction: lack of commitment. This problem can arise from failures of team members to agree on any number of things: their vision, their roles, their duties. Reaching that agreement often requires the resolution of underlying conflicts. Even more to the point, Lencioni identifies a major area of dysfunction in fear of conflict (p. 619). People use an avoidance strategy or make compromises that make no one happy – all in an attempt to avoid the dreaded conflict. If teams knew they had a collaborative approach that could deepen their relationships and improve their jobs, how much of this dysfunction would disappear?

While Lencioni proposes several team exercises to improve team-based culture, Masters presents a single nine-step program for the collaborative approach: take a step back, confront the situation, sit back and listen, capture the situation, invite exploration, assess and analyze, propose possibility, reach outcome, build relationship (p. 583). This process serves his five high-level goals by improving human relations and generating innovative solutions that work for everyone. While things are rarely as simple for leaders as the program suggests, becoming competent in these areas will help resolve conflicts much more favorably.

What it Means for Leaders

Robert E. Quinn, author of Deep Change, reminds leaders that change does not often follow an orderly and systematic plan.

“Organizational and personal growth seldom follow a linear plan. This is an important principle to remember. When people recount a history of growth, they often tell it in a linear sequence, suggesting a rationality and control that never really existed” (Quinn, 1996, p. 83).

In this light, Masters’ perfect nine-step sequence appears unlikely. Masters captures the most significant components of collaborative resolution. But, in practice, many of these “steps” will happen all at the same time, or in any number of different sequences. In the most chaotic periods of growth, all kinds of unexpected conflicts pop up. The collaborative resolutions to conflicts will come in many forms, with varying blends of masters’ key elements.

If such chaos sounds difficult to manage, it can be. Effective managers will therefore oversee teams that collaborate on solutions to conflicts and challenges. They reduce their micromanagement of details, trusting their teams to produce amazing results. Effective managers end up with more time to address the big picture. Why then don’t more managers let their teams collaborate and create solutions to conflict? They fear losing control.

“It is key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be. This can be a challenge because many leaders feel that they are somehow failing in their jobs by losing control of their teams during conflict” (Lencioni p. 618).

But, within a large and complex organization, managers must develop teams they can trust. No single person can solve all the problems of administering public policy. No single peacemaker can resolve every daily conflict in an agency, a city, or a state. Managers faced with great conflict in times of change and growth would do well to do more than simply read Masters and Albright. They will teach their teams these principles. They will allocate resources for training teams in these principles, following the example of plant manager Al Scott at Wilson Sporting Goods, “to ensure team success” (Lussier).

Even more, they will model them in practice for their teams by walking their talk. They communicate a vision of collaboration, but they must live it, too. “To create a climate of empowerment, we must first change ourselves” (Spreitzer, 2001, p. 30). Walking this talk requires leaders who have competencies in five areas: interpersonal, managerial, analytical, technical, and personal (Masters, 2005, p. 604). Sometimes innate within a born leader, many of these competencies can be studied, taught, and learned (Doh, 2003, p. 63-64). Therefore, the study of leadership amounts to more than an analysis of organizational structure or listing nine step plans. Undertaking the study of leadership is undertaking a personal journey of development and growth, to become a leader or perhaps to become a more effective one.


Those looking for a blueprint to conflict resolution will most appreciate Masters and Albright. The process of resolution may not be as well-defined as their model, but it makes a good start. It reduces dysfunction in all the major areas a company can go wrong. Lenicioni also gives a number of team exercises worth implementing. They will contribute to the relationship building component so vitally necessary to make resolving conflicts seem more appealing than avoiding them or escalating them.  


Doh, J. (March 2003). Can leadership be taught? Perspectives from management educators. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2:1, pp. 54-67.

Lencioni, P. (2005). Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team. In Management Skills: A Jossey-Bass Reader. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Lussier. Objective Case: Wilson Sporting Goods. Northern Arizona University PAS450 Course Material accessed Feb. 2013. Source unknown.

Masters, M., and Albright, R. (2005). Dealing with conflict. In Management Skills: A Jossey-Bass Reader. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Quinn, R., (1996). Deep change: discovering the leader within. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Spreitzer, G., and Quinn, R., (2001). A company of leaders: five disciplines for unleashing the power in your workforce. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Building Cultures of Collective Leadership

Building Cultures of Collective Leadership:
A New Role for Leaders in the 21st Century


Leadership accomplishes three main tasks: set direction, create alignment, and generate commitment. While traditional hierarchies assign these tasks to a single person at the top of the hierarchy, groups of people can also achieve these tasks together. These teams practice collective leadership to generate vision, create solutions together, and move their organization forward. However, a culture must exist within which these groups can come together and flourish. In the 21st century, leaders will spend more time as social architects, forging networks and coalitions from which the collectives will grow. Leaders will shape organizational culture and structure to give these groups freedom to succeed. Most importantly, they will help their teams realize the qualities of effective leadership within themselves. 

What is Collective Leadership?

Collective Leadership is more than teaching everyone lists of all the positive qualities leaders have shown through the years. Transition Coach William Bridges points out books about leadership often “say that everything is leadership. Everybody needs to be a leader.” This trend makes the idea of leadership “cover so many positive qualities and positive behaviors that everything becomes leadership” (Alexander, 2004, p. 41).

So, rather than construct a list of qualities exhibited by leaders, Wilfred Drath looks at leaders’ three primary products. Leadership accomplishes three main tasks: setting direction, creating alignment, and generating commitment (Drath, 2004, p.175-6). Drath argues that once we know these intended products, groups can achieve them without a single leader.

We can see Drath’s conception of the future of leadership as collective leadership: the self-direction of teams. If we create a culture where groups lead themselves, then leaders will move into roles of people who foster culture. Leaders of the future, like gardeners, will initiate and inspire the growth of teams who can develop and achieve their own goals.

Essentials of Creating Cultures of Collective Leadership

It requires skills to generate and sustain an organizational culture. As Nonaka points out in his 1988 case study of the Honda City project, several things need to happen for success at the organizational, group, and individual level. Leaders in top management focus, however, on clarifying decision premises (how we will judge what is best) and designing organizational structures. They also allocate resources, making sure groups have the resources they need to succeed, and prioritizing limited resources between multiple groups. Top managers will interact with their groups to show their personal support and gather information (Nonaka, 1988, p. 14). Nonaka’s study also challenges the assumption that all vision comes from the top. It suggests vision can arise from within the workers’ teams (ibid, p. 17). They can choose their own direction. Leaders focus on setting target levels for the team’s performance, plans for the future, budgets, and communicating with everyone involved (Thompson, 2000, pp. 55-7).

For full effectiveness in guiding their creative teams, leaders need not just these structural skills but Goleman’s “emotional intelligence” – people skills. To forge coalitions requires diplomacy. Diplomacy requires tact, cultural sensitivity, and the willingness to reach across cultural barriers. It requires charisma to project a positive image, being someone people enjoy working with to build teams. It utilizes contacts that form a network of supporters and allies (Campbell, 2004, pp. 31-33). Creating culture grows out of personal interactions with people, communicating, and connecting.

Does Collective Leadership Eliminate Leaders?

Even when groups lead themselves, they often exist within a greater hierarchy where they have accountabilities. It takes a leader to organize them and give them a general mission, then let them explore and create a solution within those parameters. The Honda City case study exemplifies this. The Vice President of Research and Development appointed a chief researcher as Team Leader before setting the team to their problem (Nonaka, 1988, p. 9-10). The group had autonomy, but within the company structure. They found their own solutions, but someone gave them the basic problem – and had final approval of the solutions.

Therefore, we cannot reasonably expect that collective leadership eliminates singular leaders. Rather, it changes their roles into those of people who forge strong teams, match people and roles wisely, and help the team measure their performance. Leaders will connect people, and help them stay connected. “Getting more people working together in more ways increases the likelihood that people who are able to make the needed changes themselves will become influential in the leadership process. We call this connected leadership” (Drath, 2004, p. 177).

Often a successful collective begins due to the efforts of one strong leader. He or she builds an alliance of like-minded people with similar vision. When the group reaches a certain size, they retain collective spirit by appointing from within their ranks a council of leaders rather than a single figurehead. Consider Spain’s anarchist collective city, Marinaleda. It arose from the vision of one man (Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo) who forged partnerships, and maintains a council to make decisions, plan for the future, and allocate resources (Hancox, 2012). Collectivism does not mean society will have no need for leaders.

Concepts in Action: Personal Experience

Working in complex and diverse organizational cultures tests a leader’s ability to connect and guide teams. Experience teaches me that we usually assume people will have the same kind of reactions to things as we do. But, their cultures – aspects of their demographics and their world views – often lead them to respond in a totally different way. In America, we might cross our legs at a business meeting. But in Japan, showing someone the sole of your shoe causes offense. Training and exposure overcome these misunderstandings. We learn about other cultures, interact with them, and learn to respect their differences and commonalities. Often the small things, like learning how to say hello in someone’s native language, show that you genuinely care for someone’s culture.

Once our barriers come down, we can build collectives or shape their growth. Often I provide leadership by facilitating discussions with teams. They need to address practical matters, brainstorm, or develop a plan for the future. Asking the right questions can lead to brilliant answers from the group. Framing the context of the problem in another way can foster insights by the group. Helping bridge communication gaps between different parties, especially when someone has taken offense, requires tact and the ability to see from both perspectives. All the while, we work towards a group consensus that feels inspired. People then feel a personal commitment to the solutions they create. Consensus demonstrates their alignment.

When the groups are healthy, I can influence and oversee many of them. They develop their own visions and their own directions. Collective leadership, therefore, under a guiding hand, can accomplish more than singular control of all the details.


Leadership, then, comprises a host of important skills directed at achieving the three tasks of leadership: set direction, create alignment, and generate commitment. Once these tasks are understood, however, groups and team can collectively identify problems they face, and create solutions. They can choose a direction, align within their team on that vision, and demonstrate commitment to achieving their goals. Collective action still requires leaders, leaders with the interpersonal skills to create the organizational cultures where they can grow.


Alexander, J. 2004. Leading transition: A talk with William Bridges. In Wilcox, M. and Rush, S., Eds., The CCL Guide to Leadership in Action, pp. 35-44. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Campbell, D. 2004. Nine keys to good leadership. In Wilcox, M. and Rush, S., Eds., The CCL Guide to Leadership in Action, pp. 29-33. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Drath, W. 2004. Leading together: Complex challenges require a new approach. In Wilcox, M. and Rush, S., Eds., The CCL Guide to Leadership in Action, pp. 1719. Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Hancox, D. August 15, 2012. The Spanish Robin Hood. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Nonaka, I. Spring, 1988. Toward middle-up-down management: Accelerating information creation. Sloan Management Review, pp. 9-18.

Thompson, I. 2000. Rewarding teamwork: compensation and performance appraisals. In Making the Team: A Guide for Managers, pp. 35-58.