I can remember a time in my life where I was faced with the proverbial “fork in the road.” Someone had disappointed me and I really wanted to share my thoughts with that specific someone . . . and I mean all of my thoughts. It’s in those moments where we are faced with that pesky fork in the road that we ask, “Do I take the high road…or, do I cruise at a cool 90 mph down the LOW road?”
I was serving under an executive ministry leader who once said something very derogatory and untrue about me TO MY HUSBAND. First of all, not smart. Second of all, it just plain “burned my biscuits” . . . and I like my biscuits soft, fluffy and light. Right then the temptation to right the wrong washed over me and I was revving my engine to burn some rubber down the low road and tell him a thing or two . . .
What did I do? Luckily, I paused and prayed. And chose the high road, against my humanoid urges.
Was it easy to choose the high road?
Have I always taken the high road?
Does it ever get easier?
This story is not to pat myself on the back, but to give you hope. Practice does pay off. My teenage years and early 20s included many regrets of speeding down the low road in a fast red convertible. But God showed me His grace, the importance of timing and tact in leadership and gave me a genuine love for others.
From a leadership standpoint, there are certainly a lot of things wrong with the statement made by the ministry leader above; however, I want to focus not only on that critical moment – where the two roads lay before us – where we have to respond when people, even our leaders, act out of turn, disappointing, hurting, or even slandering us, but also the importance of why we should choose the high road.
If taking the high road were easy, everyone would take it. Just imagine humans putting each other first, forgiving wrongdoings, showing grace for mistakes, and encouraging one another. Expectations would be realistic and appropriate. Conditional love wouldn’t exist, nor would frown lines. Cirrostratus clouds would be made of pink, wispy cotton candy and rivers would be made of rich, dark chocolate. Our internal clocks would wake us up naturally and coffee would make itself. Ahhh doesn’t that sound absolutely blissful?
The reality is, we live in an imperfect world. We are pounds of emotional flesh that often react to other people based on how we feel in the moment. But, effective leadership is all about taking the high road and handling conflict well when emotions are ablaze. We can’t always predict when conflict will appear (unfortunately). So, when it makes its grand entrance, oftentimes our negative emotions do as well. Because of this, the quick decision to take either the high road or the low road is typically an emotional one, hence the value in having an emotionally intelligent foundation to protect us from burning bridges and having regrets. Emotional intelligence is so critical for personal growth as a leader, increasing your sphere of influence and being a leader that is consistent and sustainable. In order to decrease our reactivity to conflict and heightened emotional situations, we need to be proactive in navigating the high road.
5 Essentials to Taking the High Road:
- Give grace. People make mistakes; they will disappoint and hurt us. The only being that won’t is supernatural; therefore, we want to maintain appropriate expectations of others. If we judge others harshly by our words and through our actions, we are inviting that same judgment into our own lives. We all have baggage to carry and while our loads may look different, we all need grace equally. After all, our Heavenly Father has gifted us with grace – it isn’t earned. We want to remember to always come from a place of love and not let negative emotions from past hurts, expectations or insecurities speak for us.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10
- Forgive. Forgiveness leads to freedom and focus. A good starting place is to remove yourself from the situation and look at it objectively. Put yourself in their shoes. Consider their struggles. Their flaws. Their emotions. When we truly forgive those who hurt or disappoint us, we see them for who they are and accept their shortcomings. We don’t focus on the wrong. We don’t meditate on it – rehearsing it over and over in our heads. We don’t talk about it with others. We realize that doing so is pointless. When we truly forgive, we become free to focus on the calling God has placed on our life and run after it with no distractions.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
- Turn frustration into fruit. We don’t want to allow our frustration with how others behave stunt our leadership. Instead, we want to rise above and model good leadership, altruistic treatment of others and speak wisely and lovingly. Frustration can easily fester into negativity and once that negativity starts to show itself, it will inhibit how we lead and how others view us. Others may recognize that turbulence within us and lose trust in the stability of our leadership. Instead, we turn that frustration into something positive. Managing our frustration well is really a growth opportunity to exemplify excellent leadership and how we would want it in our own lives. In addition to that, if we handle ourselves well, more than likely it will inspire growth and maturity in the person who brought about the conflict. As a leader, don’t we want to help others grow and develop? Yes!
“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.”— Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus, Visa
- Preserve influence. Having influence as a leader is critical and is built on the foundation of how well we manage our relationships with others. Maximum influence takes a great deal of emotional intelligence, particularly social skill and empathy. Without influence, leadership is void. Paralleling the importance of influence is sustainability. Being a sustainable leader takes understanding the responsibility we have to treat others well and lead with excellence. What does it mean to be a sustainable leader? It means being a leader that meets the needs of the present without compromising the growth and development possibilities of the future. It advocates for a better tomorrow for all. What does it take to be a sustainable leader? A holistic or “big picture” point of view – seeing how our actions today, impact our influence tomorrow or even years from now. A sustainable leader recognizes the importance of responding well in the moment, not knowing what opportunities they may have down the road to lead and influence others, even those who have wronged them. So, if we react to a situation abrasively, in retaliation or hurt others along the way, it is not likely that we will have the opportunity to pour into their lives and influence them to our maximum capacity. We will lose our influence with individuals if we aren’t a sustainable leader.
“When we discover and unleash our God-given influence, we position ourselves to lead with passion and purpose that defy our personal limitations.” ― Jenni Catron, Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence
- Leave the avenging to God. We cannot change people—only God can. The sooner we accept this truth, the sooner we can acquire peace. This has been something I’ve worked on for years. As a coach, the line of guiding others resulting in positive behavior change and self-improvement can get a little blurry. In conflicting situations that bring out negative emotions, we can easily want to take on the responsibility of righting the wrongs of others, changing their thoughts or behaviors, defending ourselves and speaking truth to a fault. Now, don’t get me wrong, there may be times in our leadership where we need to do some of these things but we should already be at a place of resolve, with managed emotions, speaking out of love and picking our battles wisely. We need to remember that in our leadership we can encourage, coach, guide, influence and speak truth but ultimately people have to want to change. God is all knowing. He sees every thought, intention and action of man. He sees our innate character and our heart. He knows our level of willingness. Because of His omnipotence, He is the only one that can turn the hearts of men. He is our judge. He is our avenger. Let’s let Him do His job so we can focus on ours.
“Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the LORD, and he will avenge you.” Proverbs 20:22
I can’t say enough how important it is to be confident in yourself and your ability to manage your emotions. In every conflict we face, we need to show ourselves grace, assess our response and why we responded the way we did. This is how we learn and pave the road to growth and development as a leader. If you have responded poorly in the past to negative situations, let it go (cue Idina Menzel)! We must learn from our mistakes, move on and trust that we will respond better next time because of our insight!
How did I handle the last emotionally-charged conflict I was faced with?
Have I forgiven those involved with the conflict?
Am I still talking or thinking about the situation?
What step can I take today to help me move forward?
What attitudes or fears are preventing me from unlocking my potential in leadership?