Skip to main content
leadership lab

Hugh Latif is a management consultant and the author of the book Maverick Leadership.

The word “battle” is a military term usually referring to a single event involving combat between opposing armed forces. Witness the Battle of York in the War of 1812 which took place in present-day Toronto. It was one battle in a war that lasted until 1815. But the word also applies to business.

Military battles involve a mission or objective, a tactical plan, and operations. There are similarities to business. In order to succeed you need a mission, strategy, tactical plans and good execution.

Any Business 101 course includes basics on how to manage challenges and opportunities in the marketplace. How do you do that? By attracting prospects, serving customers, establishing relationships with vendors and suppliers, fending off attacks from competitors, and managing external relationships. But business courses often forget about “internal battles” which exist in every organization, big and small.

Internal battles between department heads create divisional silos and fuel conflict of personal agendas. This will sabotage work on the external front. By the same token, disagreements between family members in a family-run business can do the same thing.

Think of “friendly fire” in the military. Wars often involve incidents where an army mistakenly fires on its own. It happens in business too. Think of conflicts between people, turf protection, administrative procedures getting bogged down in red tape, or business processes at ends with each other. In other words, you hurt not from the enemy – the competition – but from your own team.

Business leaders, entrepreneurs, or senior executives in large organizations will all be ahead of the game if they learn how to identify these costly internal battles and nip them in the bud. The worst thing is to run away from conflicts and confrontations. Almost always such inattention leads to bigger problems down the road. Jumping in and removing obstacles to good teamwork is the way to go.

But how do you recognize internal battles? Here are five common symptoms:

  1. A lack of clear objectives. This can apply to the organization as a whole or to a single department or function within. The objectives should be firmly set, quantifiable and do-able.
  2. Department A and Department B have conflicting objectives. The way to get around this is to align your objectives across the entire organization.
  3. Decisions get delayed (or are not made at all). This involves empowering and training your leaders on how to make decisions.
  4. Endless, boring meetings that accomplish nothing. There is only one reason to hold a meeting. To make decisions.
  5. Using negative terms like “us and them.” Such vocabulary fosters dissent and conflict. It’s better to talk about the team, the customer, profit and innovation.

Conflict between the sales and accounting departments, or infighting between operations and HR, usually involve finger-pointing and the blame game. Just as with a feud between family members who run a business, these are internal battles that can bring disastrous results to great companies and organizations. The answer is teamwork.

Internal battles are the outcome of weak leadership and the absence of healthy organizational structure. This is when you get a blurry vision/mission and little or no core corporate values in practice. In the past, successful HR management relied on “obedience” but today it’s “empowerment”.

Empower your team so they can make business decisions, and learn how to detect and defuse internal battles when these things are just starting out. Building one big team dedicated to fulfilling the vision, serving customers with excellence, and achieving an honest profit is the winning recipe for eliminating internal battles.

And don’t forget that big public corporations and well-established family businesses are not immune to internal battles which can lead to business failure. On the surface, business failures appear to be caused by external forces but they are really caused by inadequate responses to external forces. When market dynamics change, weak companies suffering from internal battles are threatened. But strong companies with solid team play view them as opportunities.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe