The Deep End

June 14, 2017

I didn’t know it would be like this: Organizations and Edvard Munch

I have a client who is just sad. Her department heads can ‘get away’ with doing unethical things that aren’t fair. I have a friend who can’t believe ‘what is right’ isn’t valued by her supervisors. And, I have a colleague who figured out how to do more of what she feels like doing as an independent contractor and plays fewer organizational games. Each one moved up into leadership positions from the classroom – realized adults are challenging to work with in different ways than students and they all got demoralized.

In their book Survival of the Savvy: High Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success, Rick Brandon and Marty Seldman gave us some very thought-provoking questions that help leaders recognize their political blind spots:

  • Power of Ideas Style or Power of Person Style?
  • Substance Power OR Position Power?
  • Focus on Feedback and Learning OR Focus on Image and Perception?
  • Do the Right Thing OR Do What Works?
  • More Open Agenda OR More Private Agenda?
  • Meritocracy-Based Decisions OR Relationship-Based Decisions?
  • Results and Ideas Speak for Themselves OR Self-Promotion?

I remember someone asking me why politics needs to even be in schools at all? Because according to Merriam-Webster, ‘polis’ is a society characterized by a sense of community’ and we are a community. Tag, we’re it. So why is it that when folks move up into team lead positions or into administration or from a school to the district office they start realizing ‘The Scream,’ a picture by Edvard Munch, is real? Can things be that bad? Welcome to the politics of education 101. Swimming in the deep end of the pool requires you to understand that we aren’t going to always be in the position to realize.

One of my cognitive crushes is on Dr. Robert Marshak. Marshak, author of Covert Processes at Work, was one of the many I have learned from that opened my eyes from beyond the egocentric and allocentric to another lens; the organizational lens. Beyond the clear outcome we are looking for, which Marshak terms the ‘rational logics,’ we should consider the politics around the change you are trying to speak to. Anyone having an organizational hard conversation, which involves many people (whole school staff, district admin, entire district initiative) should ask:

  • Who are the stakeholders with interests related to the change and based on their needs, how might they perceive this change? Is there anyone else in the conversation even though they aren’t there? A team member, a colleague, a family member? Is what you are asking going to impact others?
  • What sources of power or influence do they have to impact the change? Do they have greater ‘pull’ than you? Will they get in your way?
  • How will you deal with each critical stakeholder to ensure support for the change? How might you anticipate what they will be thinking and speak to it during your dialogue?
  • Will you need to modify our proposal to gain enough support by those who could block our plan? Are you willing to have modifications already thought out if someone outside the conversation holds more sway than you?
  • How will we continue to monitor the shifting needs, interests and political processes as the change unfolds? Remember, the conversation isn’t a one-time ‘thing’ – it is an ongoing process that will take several discussions and most likely several months or years. Things might shift that you need to be aware of and be ready for. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

Questions to Consider

  • Do I understand and accept that there may be unconscious reactions by the individual or the groups as the result of hearing my hard conversation?
  • Do I know who might have the greatest anxiety in the room or be threatened most by what I will say?
  • Do I have enough emotional or psychological intelligence and skills to be able to deal with, at least on some level, the basic unconscious defenses that I might?

Remember, the rational isn’t always what is at play.

This post was originally published on the edCircuit blog where Jennifer is a featured columnist.

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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