Leading Through Lines in the Sand


This is not the blog I planned to write today. I even spent part of the morning trying to talk myself out of it . . . and yet . . . in the increasingly frustrated, fractured, win/lose environments that many of us are trying to guide our organizations through — and beyond —perhaps it is worth a few minutes to consider how to lead in the midst of “lines in the sand.”

Part of the job of a leader is to model the behavior you want to see magnified in your organization. That responsibility is greatest during challenging times, when emotions can run high and the pressure is great. In such situations, which unfortunately seem all too common, what can a leader do to rise above either/or positions to chart a course forward?

  • Listen… to understand, not to find a point of leverage with which to reinforce your point. Too often, we treat listening like a defensive skill rather than an educational opportunity. Listening with an open mind can be hard, yet it also opens the door to step two…


  • Find common ground. Focusing on your differences, especially when viewed through the perspective of a single lens (i.e. your own), only serves to highlight barriers, rather than seeking a path to move beyond them. Ask yourself, is your goal to be right or is your goal to find a solution?


  • Be respectful. Whether you think someone deserves it is not the point. Treating others with respect is not about their behavior or something they have earned. It is a reflection on you as a leader.


You might be surprised at how often these three simple steps, and the resulting conversations, can lead to a path forward. Still there will be times that, in spite of your best efforts, you may be unable to find a solution everyone can agree to and you will have to make a hard decision. Not a threat. Not a dare. Not a competing line in the sand. A difficult but necessary choice. That’s the job of a leader. So make the decision… and then be kinder than you have to be in carrying it out. No gloating or demonizing or kicking someone when they are down.

When you do these things —listen respectfully, trying to find common ground, and when need be make the hard decisions then carry them out in a kind manner— a funny thing starts to happen. You will be faced with fewer lines in the sand. Consistently choosing to look for solutions rather than sides is contagious, but someone has to take the first step.

Are you willing to lead the way?

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