Dealing with sensei conflicts
From time to time, issues will arise between you and your SDCs. They may be conflicts between your business requirements and their comfort zones, or it may be disagreements about the effectiveness of techniques you teach, or perhaps dissatisfaction about the way that you treat the sensei team. The number of possible causes of friction are innumerable, and are simply a part of managing a team of people. More often than not, it's not personal.
Of course, the thing that makes managing the senseis so much more challenging is the fact that they are all volunteers, so you have virtually no leverage over them, and god help you if you are ever foolish enough to use the only real leverage you do have (their grades)!
All too-often, a dispute with one or a couple of senseis can quickly snowball out of control, and even when you have dealt with the situation, either by education, reasonable compromise, or ruthless annihilation, there is almost always a lingering after-atmosphere of bad-feeling or resentment. This can last for a few classes, or it may fester out of your sight until things explode again and you maybe lose good people over it.
You know who your strong-minded senseis are, and you know the issues that are likely to cause conflict, but in case you are new to the job, here are a few of them.
Now some issues are universally problematic, whilst others really apply only to a few senseis. I would suggest that those issues where most senseis will be upset need to be tackled in a group environment, because it's likely that the senseis have a right (or feel that they have a right) to be unhappy. In such situations there are only two effective solutions:
1. Appeal to a higher power, by explaining that actually, you completely share their feelings in this issue, but you have been instructed to behave in this way. You may think it is cowardly or appears weak to deflect their dissatisfaction upwards, but it's foolhardy for you to take the pain for decisions beyond your control. This way, at least you show a little empathy, even if you can do nothing to alleviate their dissatisfaction.
2. Explain carefully why the situation is as it is, taking time to answer questions reasonably and calmly. Most senseis will be happy that you have taken the time. Some will not. They are possibly the "Find fault with everything" types. Or maybe the "Stand up for themselves" types. They need to be separated from the herd and dealt with individually. They cannot be allowed to foment rebellion or build a power or sympathy base.
If they get started, it's probably best if you close the entire discussion down ASAP, and say to the rebel, "I appreciate that you still have concerns - I'll call you to discuss them tomorrow." That tells them that you are willing to continue the discussion, but not in front of an audience. Whenever you have a heated discussion in front of the senseis, the egos of both parties are exposed, and things can quickly rise to DEFCON 1, even if the original situation didn't merit it. Much as you might like to think otherwise, the senseis will ALWAYS have a "them and you" attitude because you are their superior. Many passive spectators will feel sympathy for their attacked "brother" or "sister" simply because s/he is one of their own. Now you've polarised the senseis, and if you start throwing your weight around, you may crush this rebellion, but it might take years to re-earn the trust, respect and loyalty of the others. Worse still, they will now see you as an imperious leader, ordering volunteers around, and generally being an asshole. EVEN IF YOU ARE COMPLETELY IN THE RIGHT!
You cannot close down the troublesome part of the discussion but discuss other related issues - it simply gives the senseis permission to reopen the whole debate.
Coming back to the sensei the following evening gives you both time to calm down, and most importantly, it gives you time to reflect upon the fact that YOU are supposed to be the trained leader - the diplomat. It also gives you time without the pressure, to consider more compelling esponses to their objections. But even if nothing is improved by the time you talk (and you must, must MUST make that call when you said you would, or you will simply breed resentment) at least your argument is not in the glare of spectators who could otherwise be polarised by the argument.
There will be times that you have issues to raise that you know will cause strong feelings for certain senseis, such as whether or not their kids can train at a discount. It's madness to have that discussion in front of the full sensei body. It invites opinions from people who may be smarter and more militant, even though they have no personal stake. In these situations, I strongly recommend the personal phone call, which also helps to build empathy. If you can't be bothered to make the calls, then at least send out an email to the selected senseis, rather than to all.
This is a fundamental principle of politics - divide and conquer. It may seem cynical to some, but frankly, I simply see it as not pushing a stick into ants nests that don't need poking!