Operator’s Manual

Conflict Avoided Is Always Conflict Postponed

A first-time CEO ignored an email challenging a key decision, only to see the call blow up in her face

Jerry Colonna
Published in
5 min readOct 17, 2019
A businesswoman smiles awkwardly and looks away as two of her colleagues are bothering her with questions at her desk.
Photo: fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus

SShe flashed the bat signal, looking for help in her usual way: via text. The late-night text was brief but heartbreaking: “Worst day yet. Big fight today.” That text was quickly followed by another: “I’m only reaching out because you made me promise to flash the bat signal if I was ever in trouble.”

“You did right,” I wrote back quickly, “Call me in five.”

“So we had this meeting, right?” She started hesitantly, waiting for my “uh-huh,” letting her know I was hearing her, with her. “We’d all started working when Patrick walked into the meeting, pulled out his notebook, and looked up as if to say, ‘I’m here. Let’s get started.’”

“Wait, Patrick was in the meeting? I thought you demoted him?”

The week before, she—my client, a first-time CEO—and I had worked through a careful restructuring and reordering of her team. The company faced that nearly inevitable time when the founding core was starting to be “layered” by newer folks, folks with more experience, coming in at hierarchically higher positions. Patrick, who’d been with the company since launch, had not kept up and was holding the senior team back. But because he was still an incredible contributor, we all felt it’d be best to hire above him. His new boss was seated between him and my client.

“I did demote him! And I told him that he was no longer to come to the weekly planning meeting. But he walked in, and when Zane saw him, he was furious.” Zane is the new VP to whom Patrick now reports.

Within minutes, Patrick and Zane were at it. And my client sat there, frozen, as she watched two critical team members yell louder and louder at each other until they each stormed out.

“I’m glad he apologized for losing his temper, but that’s not the problem. Why was he in the meeting in the first place?”

While we were talking, she received an email from Patrick; he apologized for losing his temper. The…



Jerry Colonna

CEO of coaching firm Reboot.io and the author of REBOOT: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. https://www.reboot.io/book