savvy leaders treat a clash in priorities as an opportunity

What Leaders Do with a Clash in Priorities

A clash in priorities is an opportunity for more strategic leadership.

We were discussing how to keep your team focused on what matters most when Nicolle, a team leader in a global communications business, asked, “What can I do when there’s a clash in priorities between my team and another department we must work with?”

This is a common question we hear from leaders at every level. When you find a clash in priorities, it’s easy to back off, become a victim, and make excuses—and many managers do just that.

But effective leaders navigate these conflicts—and build their careers and influence in the process. Master these strategies and you’ll become known for bringing people together to get results.

Navigate Your Narrative

The first step when you confront conflicting priorities is to get your story straight. No one woke up that morning with the goal of driving you crazy. Often, they’re not even aware there is a conflict. So, start by getting rid of any victim thinking and then tap into your power.

You’ve identified a conflict—and an opportunity to help everyone be more productive.

Cultivate Curiosity

When you find a clash in priorities, it helps to understand the problem. What, exactly is going on?

Let’s say another team isn’t prioritizing the work you rely on in order to achieve your goals. Start by having a conversation with your peer. For example: “I’ve noticed that the last three requests we submitted each came back in three weeks. We’re under the impression that these would be turned around in one week. I’m curious how it looks on your end?”

When you have these conversations, you’ll find many different causes. Occasionally, you might be working with an underperforming team, but most of the time, there’s a conflicting priority. They’ve moved your needs down the list because there’s something else going on.

As you have these curiosity conversations, try to listen and check for understanding about what you heard without getting defensive. For example, “So it sounds like you’ve had some people out sick and you’re getting pressure to deliver that product revision? Do I have that right?”

Create Clarity

Your goal with the curiosity conversation is to create clarity about the nature of the conflict. When the other person confirms your understanding of their situation, you can share your perspective.

For example, “My understanding is the project we’re working on together is supposed to deliver at the same time as the product revision. Do you understand it the same way?”

If they agree, then you can move to the next step. If they don’t understand the priorities the same way you do – that’s a good thing. You’ve created clarity: you’re each working from a different definition of success. Now that you know that, you can do something about it.

This happens all the time and savvy leaders are good at diagnosing these conflicts.

To create additional clarity, a common next step is to invite your peer to a conversation with your supervisor to get more clear priorities. When the three of you meet, you can quickly recap the clarity you’ve established and then ask for help understanding what matters most. For example:

“My team’s been having trouble meeting our milestones on this project because our data requests are taking longer than expected. When we talked about it, it became clear that we’re working from different priorities. I’m under the impression that both projects should be delivered at the same time, but her understanding is that her team needs to get that one done faster. We’d like to get some clarity on the timelines and priorities.”

Don’t treat these conversations as a chance to blame or excuse poor performance. It’s an objective statement of facts, the nature of the conflicting or unclear priorities, and a request for their perspective and help with clarity.

When you approach it this way, your leaders will often realize that they unintentionally created conflicting priorities and consequent conflict between teams. A quick conversation can clear it up and get everyone working from the same definition of success.

And yes, when that other team was truly underperforming, these conversations have a way of resolving that quickly.

Ask: How Can We …?

In some situations, the conflict results from multiple conflicting priorities from many leaders. Other times, there is no leadership guidance and you, your peers, or even vendor partners, must navigate the conflict yourselves.

This is an opportunity to ask a good “How can we…?” question. Eg: “How do you think we might meet both of our timelines? Is there a way I can help you? How can we help each other?”

Asking “How can we…” focuses everyone on possible solutions rather than getting paralyzed by the problem.

Schedule the Finish

Whether you got more clarity from your boss or worked out a mutual agreement with your peer, don’t leave the results to chance. Schedule the finish: as the agreement is made, schedule a time in a week or two where you will meet for 5 or 10 minutes to review the commitments you made and explore any new problems that might arise.

Your Turn

Conflicting priorities are a fact of life. Growing businesses naturally have tensions and they only become problems when they’re not addressed. When there’s a clash in priorities, it’s a fantastic opportunity for you to lead and make a more strategic impact.

We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share your best strategy for resolving conflicting priorities.

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5 Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

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one way to avoid micro-managing remote team members

One Way Smart Leaders Avoid Micro-Managing Remote Team Members

Avoid micro-managing remote team members by scheduling a clear finish.

Recently we spoke with Shawna, an executive who reflected on the past year and the shift to remote work. “We’ve exceeded our goals, but I also am sure that our failure to follow through on some things has cost us between twenty and thirty million dollars. I’m worried about micro-managing remote team members, but also want to make sure we’re following through.”

Increasing numbers of organizations have committed to long-term remote work.

At the same time, the initial burst of pandemic-response energy and creativity is giving way to the realization of the many challenges that aren’t going away any time soon: family members will still be in the background as employees try to balance working from home and homing from work; that remote team productivity and collaboration take serious work; and, that broad economic turmoil turns up the heat on the need to stay competitive in the marketplace.

How can leaders ensure that their teams achieve the results necessary to keep the business moving while creating space for the realities of working from home – and all without micro-managing remote team members?

Schedule the Finish

Good intentions and talented people aren’t enough to make sure the most important priorities happen.

Especially when your people have a thousand things hitting their windshield plus the challenges posed by working from home, pandemic stress, the movement for racial equity, economic instability, and worrying about how they’ll manage another semester with their children attending school from home.

Life is crazy and your team has more to do than time to do it. Their interruptions will get interrupted. If you don’t have an intentional, focused way to finish what you start, it won’t happen.

Effective leaders don’t leave the finish to chance or a heroic act of willpower. (Most of us have used up the heroic willpower reserves by this point.)

That’s where “scheduling the finish” comes in. Scheduling the finish means you and your team don’t leave the completion of critical items to chance, good intentions, or willpower.

Rather, you schedule a mutual moment in time where you will follow up, follow-through, and finish the task. This isn’t a vague intention – it’s an appointment on the calendars of everyone involved.

Avoid Micro-managing Remote Team Members

Scheduling the finish helps you avoid constant check-ins and follow-ups for task completion.

You do want to stay connected with your remote team members. But connection takes many forms—personal interest, emotional thoughtfulness, and fun – and business transactions.

Knowing that there is a moment in time where you will turn on the camera and discuss the completed priority allows you to focus on other vital forms of connecting with your remote team members.

Make It Automatic

If you have to spend energy trying to remember everything you and all your remote team members need to finish you’ll never do it. There’s just too much going on and your brain has limited energy. Just thinking about every open loop can be exhausting.

Here’s how it works.

The moment you set an intention, make an appointment with yourself or with the other person where you will complete the intention or take the next step. The key is when. What moment in time will you follow up, follow-through, and finish?

Here are some examples:

  • When you have a performance conversation using the INSPIRE model, the final step (E) is the Enforce step. Schedule a brief meeting to review their desired behavior. Eg: “Sounds good. Let’s meet at 10 next Tuesday to see how this is going and if you have any questions.”
  • As you delegate, schedule a time where the other person will meet with you in person or by video to return the project to you, answer questions, and discuss next steps.
  • When you lead a meeting, conclude the meeting by asking who will do what, by when, and “How will we know?” The final “How will we know?” are scheduled commitments to the team. Eg: “We will all have our data to Linda by Friday at 4 pm. Linda will send us the new process by Wednesday at 3 pm.” Everyone puts the times on their calendar. If Friday 4 pm comes and Linda doesn’t have data from Bob, she calls him. If 3 pm Wednesday comes and they don’t have the process, they call Linda.

The key in all these examples is to make an appointment. There is a difference between a to-do item and scheduled time on your calendar, particularly when that time is scheduled with another person. The likelihood of you both keeping your commitment increases significantly.

For items that don’t naturally fit in a calendar appointment (eg: you’re rolling out a new process to improve on-time delivery and quality), you can still make appointments with yourself to reinforce the initiative (communicate at least five times through five different channels) and to review performance.

When you create an expectation – particularly a new one that is the result of training or a new process – follow through on behavior quickly. And, when people get the behavior right, celebrate it, acknowledge it, and reinforce that this is what people like us do.

When it doesn’t happen, have quick INSPIRE conversations to redirect people back to the new way of doing things. If there are problems that prevent people from doing what’s needed, solve them quickly and visibly.

Your Turn

We often see energetic, type-A leaders who excel at inspiring vision, creating a process for success, and setting goals, struggle with follow-through. It doesn’t feel as fun as creating or motivating.

That’s why we invite you to make it an inseparable part of getting started. When you make a goal, start a project, or introduce a process, don’t stop until you’ve scheduled the finish. You’ll leverage your team’s energy, focus, and boost morale when everyone feels good about what they’ve achieved.

See Also: How to Hold an Effective Mid-Year Review in a Pandemic

One Secret to Delegate So Nothing Falls Through the Cracks

Helping Your Team To Prioritize When Everything Is Important

Helping your team to prioritize their focus and work is one of the toughest roles of a manager. It’s hard because you face similar pressures. You’re still required to meet all your targets and objectives, so teaching your team to place an item on the bottom of the list is scary. What if they really don’t get to it? There are no easy trade-offs in this “AND culture” (we need this AND that) most of live in. Prioritizing and balancing competing priorities are essential elements of the leadership dance. Knowing what to move to the top of the list when, and how to keep the other plates spinning at the same time takes practice. Help your team recognize the common traps that are sabotaging their ability to prioritize well. (Thanks to subscriber Joy Guthrie for today’s art).

Common Prioritization Traps

Perhaps you have some of these characters on your team. Here’s how you can help.

Windshield Watchers

Windshield Watchers look deceptively productive. They’re moving fast and getting a lot done. They’re often the first one to respond to any task because they’re taking the Nike approach to whatever hits their windshield. The adrenaline brings a familiar rush to their day. Windshield Watchers actually attract more urgent work because people know they’ll drop everything and get on it. The biggest problem with the Windshield Watcher is that they have no real basis for prioritization. Urgent always trumps important in such team members, so although they’re getting a lot done, but not necessarily making progress toward bigger goals. Windshield Watchers often struggle with feedback, because they know they’re busier than everyone else. They resent having to talk about it right now, with all the emails coming in that require attention. Help Windshield Watchers by developing a strong calendar-based system and working backwards from deadlines. Teach the art of the urgent/importance matrix.

Wheel Greasers

Wheel greasers hate conflict and are particularly sensitive to pressure from above. They prioritize based on whomever’s screaming the loudest (or with the most “important” voice). Which means, the problem may be hard for you to detect (after all, you appreciate how seriously they take your requests). Wheel Greasers often feel overwhelmed from the stress of trying to please all the people all the time. They feel like they can never do enough, because there’s no objective measure of success. Help Wheel Greasers by helping them define objective criteria on which to prioritize their work. Recognize if they have a tendency to drop other work to do what you need because you’re the boss. Explain and role model how you differentiate noisy requests from urgent issues.


These well-intentioned folks care deeply about the outcomes. They pour their heart and soul into the most important work. It’s hard to argue with their priorities. The challenge is that in their laser focus they often miss the unintended consequences caused in the aftermath. Sure customer service metrics improve, but financials suffer. Or, the financials look great, but employees are miserable. Help Whack-A-Molers by encouraging them to see the big picture and brainstorm downstream impacts. Encourage them to pilot their ideas before spending significant energy on large scale implementation.

Work Harders

Bless their hearts, work harders will do everything they can to get it all done, no matter how many hours it takes, or how little they’ve slept. The problem with these hard workers is that they often are so busy doing the work, they don’t take time to consider the best way to get it done. They overlook possible support from others or more efficient ways because they’re so lost in the doing. Help Work Harders to step back and consider the best approach to getting work done. Help them build some white space into their day.

Customize Your Coaching

Rather than teaching a generic system of time management or prioritization, consider starting with the tendencies that are getting in the way, and helping each person find more effective approaches. Ask which of these characters they most relate to, and how that works and gets them into trouble. Help Prioritizing copyThanks, LGL community member, Larry Coppenrath for creating a mindmap of today’s post.  Click on the image to enlarge.

Winning When The Troops Are Tired

“I’m so sorry,: I whispered before he could even say hello. It was Sunday afternoon, and it was the third time I had to call.

He graciously spoke what we both knew was technically true, “Karin, no worries, this is my job.” But it had been a long couple of weeks, and I knew he was tired.

I hated to keep pushing, but the business needs were real.

7 Ways to Counter Attack Tired

Be a leader that strengthens the mission and the team. It’s wrong to live in a state of constant urgency, if that’s the scene, something’s wrong. Leaders must lead in seasons. But when the going gets tough, it’s important to plan your triage.

  1. Strategize Failure – The business needs this AND that. But some battles will win the war. Help your team understand what matters most. Be frank about what can be lost without sacrificing your mission. Candor strengthens resolve. Empowering “less than perfect” energizes the frontlines.
  2. Visualize the Win – Help them build a team vision aligned with the strategy. Brainstorm creative tactics and alternative approaches. Encourage talents outside normal job descriptions that support the cause.
  3. Speak to Behaviors, Not Metrics – Too many metrics exhaust. Trend and study results, but coach to behaviors. Identify the 2-3 most important behaviors that will impact results.
  4. Provide a Little Leave – The normal response to overwhelmed is longer hours and fewer breaks. Review their calendars and help them find white space. Eliminate unnecessary meetings. Stepping back will leave room for creativity and more efficient approaches.
  5. Communicate Through the Ranks – Your highest performers won’t complain. They’ll take on more, and work longer hours to get it done. You may not even know they’re tired. Initiate the conversation. Establish regular check-ins. Make it okay to politely question your asks.
  6. Manage Your Own Stress – Stress rolls down hill. Get a grip.
  7. Encourage Collaboration & Sharing Best Practices – Fast paced pressure creates silos. Catalyze best practice sharing. Eliminate redundant work. Benchmark how other departments are approaching similar issues. Ask for help from unusual suspects. You’ll get support and it will enhance their development.