Dressler, Standing in the Fire, Leading High-Heat Meetings


Larry Dressler, Standing in the Fire: Leading High-Heat Meetings with Clarity, Calm, and Courage. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010.

Referenced in: Summary

Leadership often involves bringing diverse groups together to pursue a common purpose. These high-stakes conversations are complex and emotional, but important.  What is the key to success in these meetings? The author and his researchers interviewed over forty highly experienced leaders, conveners, change agents, and facilitators from five continents to consider this question. The key, they say, is the leader’s presence. The book expounds on this in three parts, as summarized in the preface (xvi - xviii)

Part 1 describes the nature of “group fire,” exploring both the “creative and destructive potential of emotional intensity and discord in groups,” with emphasis on how easy it is for change agents to get “swept away in their own self-inflicted fires.” With the metaphor of conveners as “fire tenders,” the authors show how their presence can “help the group hold a clear and intentional space for strong emotions, conflict, and complexity as its members work to discover new insights and common ground.”

Part 2 describes “Six Ways of Standing” for effective fire tenders.

1. Stand With Self-Awareness - Observe one’s own thoughts and emotions in order to minimize defensive reactions and more more deliberate choices.

2. Stand in the Here and Now - Be in the present moment instead of wallowing in regrets about the past or anxiety over the future.

3. Stand With an Open Mind - Stay grounded in curiosity and inquiry, even in the face of one’s own impulsive judgments about what is happening in the meeting.

4. Know What You Stand For - Be grounded in one’s purpose and core values, and convey a clear commitment to be of service to the group.

5. Dance With Surprises - Seek to overcome the need for certainty and control, allowing creative and flexible movement with the unexpected.

6. Stand With Compassion - Be careful not to lose empathy while in reactive mode, extending a more open heart and greater dignity toward self and others. 

Part 3 offers practices to help cultivate the six ways of tending. Chapter 9 on “Everyday Readiness” discusses the consistent habits that foster greater awareness and more deliberate choices. Chapter 10, “Prepare to Lead,” explores how to use time just before a meeting to connect with the physical space, one’s inner state and intentions, and the participants. Chapter 11, “Face the Fire,” describes the crucial skill of shifting into more constructive behavior when someone pushes the leader’s hot button. Chapter 12, “Reflect and Renew,” shows how to regenerate and learn after the meeting.

This book is very practical, full of concrete suggestions.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

Publisher’s Description

Whether you for facilitate meetings for a living or simply as part of your job, you’ve surely found yourself “standing in the fire” - at the center of a group that is polarized, angry, fearful, and confused. Veteran facilitator Larry Dressler has found that what makes the crucial difference in these situations is the leader’s presence. You have to master away of being that allows you to remain effective no matter a way of being that allows you to remain effective no matter how hot things get.

Dressler shows how to cultivate six “stances”-mental, emotional, and physical-that will keep you steady, impartial, purposeful, compassionate, and good-humored. Drawing on his own experiences and the insights of thirty-five distinguished practitioners, he helps you keep your cool and make the kind of inventive, spilt-second decisions these pressure-cooker situations demand.

About the Author

Larry is the founder of Blue Wing Consulting, a firm that helps organizations mobilize positive change. He has worked with a wide variety of organizations, including Nissan Motors, USC University Hospital, Starbucks, Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Cisco Systems, New Belgium Brewing, and Mitsubishi.

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***For additional information on this resource, including reviews, click the bookstore links. Check the reference at page top or the links below for resource guides on related topics.***


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