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Granting & Receiving Authority from Below

Posted April 8, 2016 • Leadership • by Kathy Roszczeda, Guest Blogger

Leader-follower conflict has long prevailed despite organizations’ attempts to ease tensions through leadership training programs. Although granted authority from above, new leaders face the challenge of obtaining authority from their followers. According to Goldman (2010), the CIVIC framework (complexity, interconnectedness, values, imagination, courage) is a useful tool that enables organizations to handle this long-term conflict effectively. Whether you’re a leader or a follower, CIVIC will help you improve organizational relationships and foster team spirit!


Complexity is the ability to anticipate complex consequences of one’s own and others’ actions. As a member engaged in the conflict, we may be inclined to think the issue is simple: the other party is naturally to blame. By shifting the blame to others, we are denying our contribution. Recognize that it takes two opposing views to create a conflict and consider how your actions have possible unintended consequences prior to saying or doing anything else. Ask yourself, “What are the possible unintended consequences of my behavior down the road for others? For myself? For the company? For future generations of my co-workers and the company’s leadership?” By analyzing the issue, you are recognizing its complexity.


Next, anticipate the potentially complex consequences of others’ actions as well. Many long-term conflicts involve multiple parties, issues and relationships so it is beneficial to understand the picture in its entirety. Take others’ perspective into account to notice how they understand the situation and why they may disagree with your point of view. Can you look at each other and recognize yourselves in one another? If so, you will increase your awareness of the leader-follower conflict (Hanh, 1996).



  • Practice mindfulness, an ancient Buddhist custom, to increase your awareness, examine who you are, question your view of the world and cultivate an appreciation for each moment (Kabat-Zinn, 1999).


Interconnectedness is the ability to appreciate the existence of relationships between people, places and events. During conflict, it is easy to forget that we all depend on one another. Specifically, when dealing with a leader-follower conflict, it is simple to categorize members as in-group and out-group based upon our position in the conflict. Avoid this categorization! Do not forget that as a team, you share common goals and each member is responsible to contribute in the achievement of these goals. Consider how your team fits into the larger organization. Success is not only measured by individual progress, but by team progress as well.



  • First, all parties should appreciate that they are interconnected. It helps to map out relationships. Think outside the box and include new individuals, places or events that you have not considered before. Also include at least one positive contribution each person, place or event has brought. Creating this map may help us shift our perspective and be more appreciative of each member.


Values refer to the ability to uncover authentic values. Leader-follower conflict has persisted throughout time across organizations and in long durations within firms. The parties must be getting something in return, otherwise the conflict would have finished long ago. Therefore, ask yourself what benefit(s) do you receive by staying in the conflict? The answer may reveal taboo values we hold. For instance, leaders may engage in the conflict because it allows them to avoid the uncomfortable conversation of their leadership style. Followers may remain in the conflict because they value the support, sympathy and attention they receive from their peers. Additionally, you may find that power/authority, a commonly desired taboo, is valued by both the leader and followers. If both parties are seeking power, conflict naturally arises. Hence, values must be recognized and voiced in order to discover other means of attaining them.



  • The Values Exercise is most effective if all members of your organization complete it. The purpose of this exercise is to shed light on various kinds of values members hold and provide the space to openly discuss them. This will cultivate dialogue of how personal values can be impacting the team. First, each team member should answer the following three questions individually.


  1. Identify the top three current values you hold. As you consider your options, ask yourself, “What are my core values? What is most important to me? Why?”
  2. Identify your top three ideal values.
  3. Identify your top three taboo values.


Then, the team comes together so members can voluntarily share their answers on the chart paper and responses are discussed as an aggregate.


  • As you reflect upon the choices you selected, ask yourself, “Are my actions aligned with my values? Are my values aligned with those of the organization?”
  • Recognize that authentic values are sometimes hidden or taboo. After acknowledging the taboo values, ask yourself, “What do I want here? Do I want these values to drive my behavior or do I choose to let them go? How else can these values be addressed?”


Imagination is defined as the ability to conceive of, and communicate, a vision of a better future. When tensions are high, we often do not imagine a better future with our current situation. We assume the problem will continue in this organization and a better future entails leaving for a new opportunity elsewhere. This flawed thinking assumes that tensions between leaders and followers only exist in our organization.



  • Instead of avoiding the issue, imagine a future in your current organization where the leader and followers were aligned. What would the situation look like in its ideal state? Then, consider the other parties involved. How do others envision the ideal future?
  • Next, reflect upon how you could communicate your thoughts to others. Be sure to ask others for their vision as well!


Courage is the ability to act in the face of fear and the unknown. It is also the ability to take action that may be seen as unconventional. If there is resistance towards leadership, how often do we bring it up in a team meeting? Rarely or never. While tensions may exist amongst the followers and the leader, there is greater discomfort in being the one who speaks up. We may have envisioned a better future and developed ideas to improve relationships, but if we do not act, we are stuck in the same patterns. Dialogue is essential to promote constructive change on an interpersonal and structural level (Lederach, 2006).



  • Take the first step towards your vision of a better future today. You can start small and in a safe environment by conducting a mini-experiment to head in the right direction. For instance, you may suggest an AAR (after action review) to establish a system for providing and receiving feedback. If you choose to do so, review best practices first so feedback is provided and received properly. While it may feel awkward in the beginning, continue to be an advocate for feedback so it becomes natural within your team.
  • When you are ready, push past your comfort zones and discuss the elephant in the room. It’s better to have one major, brief unsettlement rather than multiple minor, prolonged unsettlements.
  • Consider the need for a process consultant. This individual can unmask covert processes before they become issues.
  • Don’t hesitate! Once you have determined an action plan and start acting on it, do not stop.


Remember, be CIVIC!
Those who are CIVIC-minded anticipate complex consequences, recognize interconnectedness, align actions with authentic values, imagine and communicate a better future and courageously take extraordinary actions. By following this framework, you can reduce leader-follower tensions and build trust within your team!


Goldman, J. S. (2010). Resolving Tough Conflicts – One Competence at a Time. Chief Learning Officer Magazine Executive Briefings. Alignment Strategies Group.
Hanh, T. N. (1996). Being Peace. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press. Ch. 5: Working for Peace (pp.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1999). What is mindfulness? Wherever you go, there you are. NY: Hyperion,
Lederach, J. P. (2006). Defining Conflict Transformation. Peacework Magazine, 368. Downloaded from the World Wide Web on January 16, 2008 at:

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