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July 10, 2024

Consultant Larry Dressler on Standing in the Fire: Easton’s Organizational Shift

Tatyana Grechina

Consultant Larry Dressler on Standing in the Fire: Easton’s Organizational Shift

When you run an organization with multiple locations, leadership roles and personalities, things don’t always go as planned. It takes being willing to step back, see your collective shortcomings and acknowledge that something isn’t working, to take the first steps towards improvement.

Larry Dressler

Easton’s structural trajectory has changed a lot over the years as we’ve sharpened our internal compass and smoothed out some rough edges. The biggest transition, however, came in 2017 when we hired Larry Dressler of Blue Wing Consulting.

This week on the Easton Community Podcast, we feature Larry – the consultant who showed us how crystalizing our mission, optimizing our internal structure and implementing core values can help us navigate any conflict and decision with conviction, discernment and clarity.

For the full hour, listen to the interview on Spotify or Apple Podcasts!

Larry doesn’t teach people how to communicate better by avoiding conflict; he shows them how to step right into the fire and come out the other end.

His book, Standing in the Fire: Leading High-Heat Meetings with Clarity, Calm, and Courage, shares his philosophy on standing in the heat of a hard conversation, getting comfortable in the discomfort of those intense moments, and creating productivity and creativity out of them.

Depending on our personalities, high-heat situations can have us making ourselves smaller to keep the peace or, alternatively, bulldozing others to claim it. Unfortunately, neither works in the long run. They only create a toxic set of habits and patterns leading to discord and resentment. 

Larry’s goal, when working with a company, is for everyone – regardless of age, gender, experience level or communication style – to feel comfortable and confident expressing themselves.

When we know the value of healthy conflict and how to engage with it in a productive way, the sky becomes the limit for what we can accomplish together. For this reason, Larry has focused his consulting business on the value of high-heat conflict resolution education and strategy.

Early in the field of sociology

Growing up as a small kid in a heavily gang-dominated school district, Larry got bullied and beat up alot, often facing five guys at once with no way to protect himself. While this led to Larry training in judo for some time at a local Buddhist temple, his best defense ended up being sociology. 

“It never became a source of self defense for me really,” says Larry of judo, “but it did bring a sense of physical confidence as I moved through the world.”

Overtime, he learned to rely on his smarts, his sociology mind, to understand complex social dynamics and learn how to move fluidly within them to get from class to class safely.

5-Year-old superhero Larry with his little brother Brian.

“I came to be able to see power networks among the people who were populating the hallways,” says Larry, “the predators, and I figured out how to connect myself in a way that created safety with this network of gang members and with the people who knew the gang members.”

While no kid should have to resort to this sort of hypervigilance to summon courage, Larry’s experience truly set him up to enter the world of sociology where he could give that courage back to others. It also armed him early with the resilience to survive in a challenging world.

One of his tricks in high school involved standing in front of a mirror to practice letting all expression drain from his face, then taking a step towards his reflection. Instead of running away from bullies or conflict, or reacting in an emotional way by getting scared or angry, he learned how to form a blank slate from which to respond and lean in.

Of course, this can’t work in every high-heat situation, such as a disagreement with your partner which may require a more nuanced, softened approach with emotional vulnerability. It does, however, highlight a core tool used in many conflict resolution spaces – responding versus reacting.

Larry and the “kids!”

Why core values work

When you run a school of thousands of members, hundreds of staff and dozens of people in leadership, the only way we can keep going in the same direction is by ensuring our roots are solidly planted. 

The reason implementing core values specifically became such a crucial turning point for Easton comes down to the importance of identifying what we stand for. At Easton, our core values include Excellence, Trust, Compassion and Stewardship. 

What do you want to stand for in the world? What are you willing to lose money and relationships over? When we stand for everything, we stand for nothing – and if we try to please everyone, who are we really serving? 

Instead of turning our backs on things we don’t agree with and letting them slide, Easton began to deal with them head on. This has led to some painful partitions over the years as those who didn’t resonate with our core values fell away, but it also gave us standards that endure and a foundation for growing in the direction we truly wanted.

Realizing you will no longer accept a certain level of mediocrity or type of behavior doesn’t make you a bad person or a hypocrite. It means you’ve chosen to evolve with clarity and conviction through setting boundaries and upholding principles. 

It also may mean that you were sending the wrong message before about what’s ok, but remember – it’s never too late to change that. 

Living and operating by our core values, the hard conversations and decisions became more clear cut. Rather than coming from a personal space as subjective opinions to be questioned or debated, there became a greater truth to defer to.

Some of us want to believe and see the best in everyone, and making tough calls to let somebody go can haunt you for months as you wonder if you made the right choice, if you were too callous or not empathetic enough. When you start to see everything through the lens of your own core values, things become more straightforward.

Armed with core values, you can cut through the fog of ambiguity with an innate understanding of what you will and won’t accept. Not only does this help frame the roadmap for running a school, but it also creates cohesion among all of our academies, letting us operate as one.

Creating a strong internal framework and nonnegotiable core values doesn’t make tough conversations easier, but you learn to trust the outcome. Having these metrics to live by arm you with the certainty of an outcome you can count on – one that pushes you in the right direction by sheer way of the path.

To hear more about Larry’s journey and learn from his fantastic mind, listen to the full podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts!

Larry with his wife, Rose; and in Guanajuato, Mexico where we live part time. 


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