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Leading with the Grain

Lead Star, September 8, 2020

Human nature is not always at its best during times of challenge.  Many of the leaders we work with have found more friction in their relationships during COVID times than any time before.  Sure, as leaders we always deal with disputes, personality conflicts, and difficult dynamics, yet it’s fair to say everyday challenges are heightened a bit right now. 
When you’re tempted to bring matters to a boiling point, we encourage you to reflect on how you can lead with the grain of human nature, instead of escalating conflict.  “The grain” refers to a plank of wood.  If you slide your hand across wood, “with the grain,” it feels smooth.  If you move your hand “against the grain,” it feels rough.  We’re just like the people we lead – at times we can be selfish, annoying, delivering less than best performance, or failing to support others well.  Being wise as a leader means accepting (and valuing) people for who they are.  Yes, you want to coach better performance, provide timely feedback, and help others grow.  Yet the more you do that “with the grain” of being human, the more smoothly you’ll achieve results.
Our society tends to glorify the rebel.  The leader who disrupts everything for the greater good.  While that storyline plays well in Hollywood, challenging times call for dignity, grace, a sense of service to others, and patient, steady leadership.  Think evolution versus revolution.  Here are simple ways you can lead with the grain:
Practice active empathy.  The moment you find yourself thinking a disparaging thought about someone else, immediately seek to put yourself in their shoes, working to understand sincerely what challenges the person is facing, what it might feel like to be them right now, and – most importantly – how you can be of value to the person who is frustrating you. 
Listen – Don’t Demand.  The best results often come from getting through conflict.  Resist the urge to focus on winning or differences.  Instead, identify why you’re in disagreement with someone else, acknowledge the many areas where you don’t need to agree, and then focus on the few areas where common ground is needed to achieve progress, collaboratively.  Then, lead through listening and understanding instead of demanding and dictating. 
Accept reality.  We might wish we could change someone or remove a barrier magically to resolve a challenge.  Yet we can’t.  Instead, we must work through, around, or past challenges and differences.  Don’t seek to change others, instead change your response or approach to progress.  Leadership is about influencing and inspiring, not commanding and controlling.  The more you lead with service, the more you’ll lead with the grain. 
Stay the course leaders.  Know we are with you on the journey.

Angie and Courtney

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