Leadership Skills: Why Light Follows Heat

“Look” the fellow from Denmark exclaimed while pointing to the visual I’d created the day before. “It’s just what Avery said would happen: we had a breakthrough!”

It was true. His team had broken through a frustrating and heated issue. Now the ten participants, including Germans, Italians, Americans, and Danes, were expressing relief and celebrating.

Why? They felt relief that the stress of conflict was lifted and that continued personal investment in this team could be valuable and rewarding rather than a mistake.

They celebrated that they created value together and expanded the realm of possibility from what had, for the last few days of meetings, appeared impossible.

In other words, “light” followed “heat.”Like the phrase “It’s darkest just before dawn” this is a valuable metaphor to remember next time you find yourself in the heat of conflict within a team or partnership.

Because all the team members stayed in the conflict together and pursued a fair process, they broke through the perceived limits and shed new light on the team’s work.

As many times as I’ve witnessed such breakthroughs (I’ve come to trust it as a rudimentary element of The Leadership Gift™), I remain amazed at the miracle of it — heat then light, heat then light, heat then light.

It’s as predictable as rubbing two sticks together to produce flame, if, as in stick-rubbing, a few other important elements are in place.

If the other elements are there, light will always follow heat. Without those elements, you might just get more and more heat until one of the participants can’t stand the heat anymore and withdraws. That’s called “breakdown.”

So the lesson here is not to avoid the heat. It’s to learn how to turn heat into light every time. Understanding breakpoints — and how to break through rather than down — is important.

Here Are Some Pointers About Breakpoints:

1. What’s a breakpoint?
A moment in time before and after which the conditions or states of an object or entity are entirely different. The moment when linkages let go and new linkages form.

2. What causes breakpoints?
Teams’ very nature predisposes them to breakpoints, and that’s a good thing. It’s the peer structure of teams at work. Since everyone has equal say and no one has authority over others, breakpoints will occur as a result of disagreements.

3. Why is that a good thing?
Because light follows heat.

4. Always?
No, it is possible for humans to produce light without the heat, but that’s a maturity that comes with much wisdom.

5. So how can one help a team break through instead of down?
The prime directive is to keep people committed together through the disagreement to breakthrough.

The paradox is that disagreement alone threatens us — and we respond to the perceived threat by with personal attack, defensiveness or withdrawal — when what we need to do is re-double our commitment to support each other.

  • Learn to disagree in a supportive way, respectfully and compassionately, so that disagreeing does not threaten the team-linkages holding people together.
  • Value disagreement as the process of expanding awareness for everyone on the team.
  • Acknowledge that every person, no matter how smart, gifted, experienced, or educated, is stuck in his or her own point of view (or perspective), and every point of view is limited.
  • Let go of the language of right and wrong, good and bad, and win and lose, since that language is based on points of view, every one of which is limited. Instead substitute the
    language of perspective and function (“That works for me.” “That doesn’t work for engineering.” “I can align with that”).
  • Create an atmosphere and expectation of staying “in it” together until a breakthrough.
  • Predict that breakthrough will occur (unless people prefer breakdown).
  • When people are ready to give up, redouble efforts one more time.

Get Started With This 5-Minute Stretch

Think of the last time you had a heated discussion in a team or with a partner. What could you have done to produce more light, better and faster? What will help you do it next time?

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Leadership on 11/14/2013 08:29 am
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