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From Clarity to Conflict: Navigating Leadership Challenges with Dan Tocchini

In the 175th episode of The Leadership Project podcast, we had the pleasure of speaking with Daniel Tocchini, founding partner at Take New Ground and co-host of the Naked Leadership podcast. Dan's experience in leadership and conflict resolution has equipped him with a unique perspective on how leaders can navigate the often tricky waters of courageous leadership and creative conflict resolution.

Dan's journey into leadership began at a young age. He shares one of his first encounters with leadership and conflict resolution, rooted deeply in personal and family experiences. His mother's struggle with mental health issues introduced him early to the concept of human performance and the importance of presence.

landscape of work

The Power of Presence

"When I talk about the power of presence, it's that we all know what that is when you see somebody who's there, connected, available, unconditionally like they're willing to do what it takes."

Dan emphasises the power of presence as an essential aspect of leadership. Leaders often avoid difficult conversations, resulting in compounded problems over time. Dan likens this to the "hors d'oeuvre principle," where small neglects culminate into significant issues.

The Importance of Addressing Conflict Early

One of the core themes of the discussion was the notion that avoiding conflict only allows issues to compound over time. Dan illustrated this with his ‘hors d'oeuvre principle,’ where minor issues if left unaddressed, can escalate into significant problems. This principle is particularly relevant in leadership contexts where minor behavioural or performance issues if ignored, can grow into pervasive cultural problems affecting the entire organization.

To summarize:

  • Avoidance leads to compounding problems: Addressing issues when they first arise prevents them from growing and causing more significant problems down the line.

  • Lean into discomfort: Effective leaders must be willing to have difficult conversations early to prevent minor issues from becoming entrenched practices.

The Power of Presence and Engagement

Dan emphasised the importance of presence and engagement in leadership. True leadership involves being connected and willing to face difficult conversations head-on. When leaders avoid discomfort, they implicitly signal that problematic behaviours are acceptable.

To amplify this, Dan shared a memorable skiing analogy:

  • Just as leaning into speed prevents accidents on the slopes, leaning into discomfort can prevent small issues from snowballing into larger crises.

  • Holding space and allowing messages to sink in without immediately filling the silence can also be a powerful technique during difficult conversations.

The Potentiality in Conflict

Conflict isn't inherently negative; in fact, it can unlock great potential when properly managed. Dan shared a compelling story about a turnaround he led for a struggling company. The key to their success was understanding and leveraging the tensions and conflicts that naturally arise:

  • Thorough Research and Preparation: Before diving into the conflict, conduct thorough research to understand the underlying issues and the stakeholders involved.

  • Bringing Conflict to the Forefront: Create a ‘burning platform’ where the risks of inaction outweigh the discomfort of addressing the issue. This helps people realise the urgency and potential benefits of resolving the conflict.

Addressing the Now to Build a Better Future

Another critical insight from Dan is the importance of addressing current issues before focusing on future aspirations. Many leadership teams are future-driven, often at the expense of dealing with present challenges. However, without addressing the now, you can't build a solid foundation for future success.

  • Balance Future Goals with Current Reality: Develop a future vision but remain grounded in the present by resolving immediate issues first.

  • Embrace the Parade of Horribles: Acknowledge and face the possible negative outcomes of not addressing current problems. This builds resilience and prepares the team to tackle these issues head-on.

Creating a Culture of Accountability

Finally, the conversation touched upon the significance of maintaining a balance between warmth/empathy and enforcing necessary rules and regulations. Leaders must be capable of building genuine relationships while still holding team members accountable:

  • Clear and Honest Communication: Engage in open discussions about performance and behavioural standards.

  • Consistency in Enforcement: Avoid permissiveness by consistently addressing issues as they arise to prevent misunderstandings and tacit acceptance of undesirable behaviours.


The discussion with Dan Tocchini was enriching and provided actionable insights for leaders who strive to navigate conflicts effectively. The ultimate takeaway is clear: avoiding conflict only leads to larger problems. Leaders must lean into discomfort, address issues early, and maintain a balance between empathy and enforcing standards to unlock their team's full potential and secure a brighter future.


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