Is confrontation necessary for great leadership?


It seems to be more natural to lean away from confrontation instead of leaning into it.  It’s difficult, uncomfortable, messy, and the end result is never certain.

The word itself brings up negative images in my mind.  Images of a drill instructor screaming into the face of a stoic recruit, spittle flying.  Images of being backed into a corner with no way to escape.  Images of the popular girl, trailed by her devotees, accusing another girl of smiling at her boyfriend – her superiority palpable.

The word confrontation can be defined as “an open conflict of opposing ideas or forces.”  At first glance, it seems to me to be something that I should avoid as a leader.

But what if I approach confrontation knowing that it actually means care?

To be a great leader, I know I have to care about my team.

(Read more about how to care for your team here and here and here.)

Take a moment to think about it – do you typically confront people when you’re not passionate about the subject?  Probably not.  We tend to use confrontation when we deeply care about either the person or the subject.

Choose to confront someone you lead because you care so much about them that you don’t want them to stay the way they are.

Will you still dread the confrontation?  Possibly.

That’s ok – it shows that you may care more about the person than about being right.

If you don’t care, you’ll never confront people.

I know I just offended some of you.  You’re protesting in your mind, insisting that you do care for your team.  You just hate confrontation.  You hate the possibility of hurting the other person.  You hate conflict and the unknown outcomes.

But how much do you really care about your team if you’re not willing to help them grow into better people?

Do you want your team to grow?  You may need to confront an issue that is holding your team back from reaching its full potential.

Or do you want your team to continue down their current path?  Then, by all means, don’t confront them.  Leave them alone to self destruct or maintain mediocrity.


But if you do care, choose to do the difficult thing.

Lovingly, kindly, at the right time and in the right setting, confront them.

How they react is not up to you.  Let them know they are too important to you to let this go.

Show them that confrontation means you care.


8 thoughts on “Is confrontation necessary for great leadership?”

  1. Andrea says:

    Confrontation is never pretty – people in general don’t like to be challenged. This post is timely for me – recently I confronted someone in a leadership role. It was not easy, nor was the outcome expected. What I cling to is my prayer that confrontation was in God’s will for us, that our conversation will be used for his good eventually, and that we are both strengthened in him because of it.

    1. Oh Andrea – praying for you and your leader as well. I know that had to be an incredibly hard situation, and that God will be glorified through your obedience to honor your leader through the confrontation.

  2. Amy says:

    I usually say that I picked up the non-confrontational trait that is often a cultural trait of the Japanese (after having lived in Japan for some time) and therefore, I do not like conflict or confrontation. It’s very hard for me to confront people — team or otherwise — about anything. But I do follow up on it sometimes.
    Thanks for the reminder that this is a leadership trait.

    1. Amy, I think confrontation, when done for the right reasons, is always hard. It seems that if it’s easy, then maybe I am doing it for self-serving reasons instead of trying to truly help the other person. And doing it in an honorable way is key, of course. Thank you for sharing that perspective!

  3. Heidi Kreider says:

    I’ve always avoided confrontation, sometimes at all costs. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. You’ve helped me see the other side. 🙂

    1. Thanks Heidi! I am constantly reevaluating my perspective on so many things….this one hit me hard.

  4. Stacey Philpot says:

    But what if I approach confrontation knowing that it actually means care?

    Yes. I have always felt this way. How do people fix things if we don’t bother to tell them it needs to be fixed?

    1. Stacey – it’s just like expectations – how do we hold people accountable for things if they don’t know what our expectations are? They certainly can’t fix things if they don’t know they need to be fixed, either! I would much rather have someone confront me than to leave me floundering…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *