Coach, Cheerleader Or Referee?


Effective leadership requires effective conflict resolution skills. A team in conflict is a team that is not functioning at its best. While a great deal of conflict can be anticipated and artfully avoided, circumventing conflict isn’t always possible or even desirable. Living in the real world, you will inevitably face conflicts in your team.


Not all conflicts are created equal. As an effective leader, you need a variety of strategies to address problems as they arise and to play different roles in resolving conflicts. I think successful conflict resolution requires leaders to be coach, cheerleader and referee. See if you agree.


Coach. Coaches ensure that team members reach their full potential as individuals and as a team. Coaching your team through conflict includes establishing a climate of mutual trust and respect and strong communication skills such as civility, open-mindedness and active listening.

Helping identify and craft win/win solutions is another way to coach your team through conflict. When conflict hits a stumbling block, you can suggest alternate strategies that may make the team more successful in resolving the situation. Additionally, you can lead the team in post-conflict analysis and apply the lessons learned to support improved performance and avert similar conflicts in the future.


Cheerleader. Cheerleaders provide support, encouragement and praise from the sidelines, rather than participating directly in the competition. Wise leaders know there are times that interfering in a disagreement only makes matters worse. When the conflict calls for you to be a cheerleader, express your support and your confidence in your team’s ability to steer themselves through the conflict. Praise the progress made along the way to keep your team’s spirits high and focused on the desired outcome.


Referee. Referees ensure good sportsmanship and that players follow the rules of the game. So it is with leaders in conflict situations. When team members are unable to resolve conflict on their own, they may need your intervention as a neutral party. While it might be tempting to take sides, as a leader you need to protect the interests of all parties equally.


Enforcing ground rules and calling “foul” on inappropriate behaviors during the conflict process is critical. Declaring a time out when things get too heated can also be useful. Finally, as a referee, you may need to exert your authority to declare a winner if the team or individuals can’t reach a shared resolution.


While your preferred leadership style in conflict may lean more heavily to one of these roles, effective leadership means that you are capable of being a coach, cheerleader or referee depending on the needs and capabilities of your team. Knowing when to be coach, cheerleader or referee empowers you to lead your team to success and to Increase your impact!


Dr. Sherene McHenry, Relational Leadership expert, is a widely acclaimed speaker, author and coach that demystifies how to lead, motivate and resolve conflict for optimal results. Known for being wise, witty and highly practical, Sherene provides instantly implementable tips and strategies for enhancing leadership effectiveness, increasing engagement and decreasing burnout, frustrations and miscommunications.

© 2020 Sherene McHenry