I read the following quote in the Wall Street Journal attributed to Bruce Lee that "the best sparring partner is a madman who goes all out." It was a reference to the Republican Primary candidates, preparing to go up against the heavy weight contender (to continue the boxing metaphor) the incumbent President of the United States, Barack Obama, by poking and jabbing one another mercilessly. There are many who are tired of the attacks but they are part of the process. Whether it is politics, business or whatever being a leader is not for the faint of heart or those who cannot take or give a punch.
The reference to a sparring partner made me think of the sparring matches that occurred in various executive and board meetings I have participated. Some were knock down drag out matches complete with round houses, upper cuts, jabs, and low blows. Some were looking to win on points while others clearly were going for the knockout punch. Many of the matches were stopped in order for the cut man to repair the damages. I am not a big fan of extreme cage challenges. I prefer a more strategic, business approach to destroying my opponent. Batter them with irrefutable facts that send them back to their corner stunned. However, they donít remain in the corner, but come out fighting before the bell rings and you have time to put your guard up. They flat out deny the facts are facts and continue to hammer their point.
As much as Corporate America values confrontation most organizations don't know how to engage in constructive confrontation. As if there is such a thing. There are books and consultants who will tell you confrontation is a good thing and they will even tell you how to do it skillfully. Such as look for common ground, focus on listening, and gain cooperation all the while a madman (Bruce Lee's word) is going all out. Fighters don't win by being defensive but they do have to protect themselves. There is a difference. They must be aggressive but not wild.
I had a friend who was a boxing golden glove winner. He went into the Army and was training to spend his time boxing. One day he was in the ring with a fellow competitor. My friend was more skilled and was winning the fight on points when he got hit with a punch that sent him to the canvas for a ten count. He was stunned. How could this happen? Clearly, he was the better boxer. It so shattered my friend's confidence that he quit boxing. Here is the lesson. When engaging in conflict you need to "float like a butterfly but sting like a bee." (Muhammad Ali)