Leadership & Formation #23: Reframing

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Posted by greg

door_decision_pc_400_clr_2583.png Every leader seeks to make sense of the world around them through a set of perceptual attitudes more commonly referred to as a worldview.  It is through that lens they view and interpret their surroundings, their relationships, and their perceptions of their observations.  One could say they see the world through a ‘frame.’

While attending Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Institute for Educational Management, I was exposed to Reframing Organizations by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal, now in its 5th edition.  This resource is an attempt to consolidate major schools of organizational thought into a comprehensive framework encompassing four perspectives called frames.  The authors suggest that like maps, frames are both windows on a territory and tools for navigation.

This article is longer than my other posts.  I encourage the reader to read it through to completion.  Doing so will result in the addition of a strategy to your leadership toolkit that will make you a more effective leader.


There are four frames:  structural, human resource, symbolic, and political.  Each leader has a default frame through which they process options, alternatives, possibilities, opportunities, choices, and prospects.  What follows is a brief description of each frame in the author’s own words followed by applications derived by my use of the framing structure,

STRUCTURAL – Factory (Architecture)

This frame is all about an organization as a factory.  This frame depicts a rational world and emphasizes organizational architecture, including goals, structure, technology, specialized roles, coordination, and formal relationships.  It is a rational model that simply looks at the facts to determine direction and action.  Such organizations value org charts, allocate responsibilities, create rules, policies, procedures, systems, and hierarchies to coordinate diverse activities into a unified effort.  When something isn’t working some form of reorganization or redesign is needed to remedy the mismatch. GE, GM

HUMAN RESOURCE – Families (Empowerment)

This frame focuses on interpersonal relationships and sees an organization as an extended family, made up of individuals with needs, feelings, prejudices, skills, and limitations.  The key challenge is to tailor the organization to individuals—finding ways for people to get the job done while feeling good about themselves and their work.  Finding the right fit for people, this perspective contends, can only benefit the organization because members of the organization are operating from their ‘sweet spot.’  Microsoft, Google

SYMBOLIC – Temples (Inspiration)

This frame emphasizes ethos, culture, symbols, and spirit as keys to organizational success.  The symbolic lens treats organizations as temples, tribes, or movements.  These ‘cultures’ are propelled by rituals, ceremonies, stories, heroes, and myths rather than rules, policies, and managerial authority.  These organizations are driven by well-established DNA consisting of mission, vision, and values.  Departure from this DNA is tantamount to betrayal.  Everything attempted or envisioned is seen through this DNA with each actor on the stage playing his or her part.  Starbucks, Apple

POLITICAL – Jungles (Advocacy or Political Savvy)

This frame sees organizations as arenas, contests, or jungles.  Parochial interests compete for power and scarce resources.  Conflict is rampant because of enduring differences in needs, perspectives, and lifestyles among contending individuals and groups.  Bargaining, negotiation, coercion, and compromise are a normal part of everyday life.  Coalitions form around specific interests and change as issues come and go.  Problems arise when power is concentrated in the wrong places or is so broadly dispersed that nothing gets done.  Solutions arise from political skill and acumen.  The Apprentice, Survivor

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Leadership & Formation #22: Wise Decisions

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Posted by greg

figure_good_choice_400_clr_12897.pngAn ancient writer once said, “Who is like the wise man?  Who knows the explanation of things?  Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance…and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him. “

How many ‘wise’ leaders do you know?  When I was executive pastor of a large church in southern California a prominent internationally renowned church leader visited our church.  I asked him what he thought was the biggest problem facing leaders for the foreseeable future. His answer came quickly and consisted of one word - DISCERNMENT!  

How does a leader ‘discern’ the right course of action, decide between two equally viable options, be objectively informed by divergent perspectives, suspend their own predispositions and biases to hear different voices, consult their inner convictions, before making a decision?  To a great degree, their intuition enlightened by insight, will help them make wise decisions.

In my way of thinking, three levels of insight of increasing complexity are possible and used by leaders to make decisions; the information level, the knowledge level, and the wisdom level.

Many of us are living at the information level which is simply the ordered understanding of raw data. We do not give enough time to reflection leading to comprehension. The tyranny of the urgent, the frenzied activity of our daily lives, and the constant bombardment of data (TV, faxes, newspapers, magazines, Internet, e-mail, radio, audio tapes, videos, podcasts, webinars, superficial conversations, etc.) rob us of an ordered analysis of our world. We operate off of sound bites instead of measured and thoughtful examination.

Many others are stuck at the knowledge level, satisfied with the acquisition and accumulation of information ordered in such a way as to produce an intellectual grasp of the essentials, enough to converse intelligently on the subject but little more. We acquire competencies analyzing data and applying rubrics to tease out nuggets that will hopefully propel us into a preferable outcome or attainment of a sought after goal.  The trouble with remaining at this level is that our mental comprehension doesn’t move on to applied wisdom.

We need to move to the wisdom level by prioritizing the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge into wisdom.  Wisdom is an internal quality developed over time, established by a congruent belief system, conditioned by a core value system, informed by an integrated worldview, and honed through experience.  Learned methods, processes, systems, and strategies are the tools we use but it is wisdom that provides discernment in their application.

For instance, the Internet offers access to information on almost every topic imaginable.  Any person can acquire information on a given topic, recast it in their own words, and present the information as if it were their own.  When we process that information, comprehend its significance, visualize its application, and apply that knowledge to events, situations, or circumstances we are operating at a knowledge level.  Weighing the significance of information, analyzing the specifics of a body of information, synthesizing it with other related information, evaluating the importance of the information, and making informed judgments regarding the utility of the information is operating at a wisdom level.

As an example, in Exodus 20 of the Bible we are exposed to information, the existence of 10 commandments.  We develop a knowledge about them when, through study and reflection we comprehend their meaning (i.e., the first 4 commandments address our relationship with God and the remaining 6 commandments address our relationship with others).  Knowledge becomes wisdom when we understand the commandment’s implications to us individually and we personally apply them to our lives as we process them through a belief system that has established our values.

In the popular movie, Jurassic Park, the proprietor of the park, John Hammond presides over a lunch with invited guests who have just witnessed the amazing existence of dinosaurs created in a lab and now roaming the grounds.  John is being criticized by Malcolm, a skeptic who questions the entire enterprise.

MALCOLM:  The problem with scientific power you've used is it didn't require any discipline to attain it.  You read what others had done and you took the next step.  You didn't earn the knowledge yourselves, so you don't take the responsibility for it.  You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you knew what you had, you patented it, packages it, slapped in on a plastic lunch box, and now you want to sell it.

HAMMOND:  You don't give us our due credit.  Our scientists have done things no one could ever do before.

MALCOLM:  Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.  Science can create pesticides, but it can't tell us not to use them.  Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it can't tell us not to build it!

In summary then, information is the ordered understanding of raw data. Knowledge is meaning derived through study, reflection and comprehension. Wisdom is knowledge applied based on one’s core beliefs and values. There is a vast distance between having a knowledge about something and having a personal knowledge of something.  The bridge from one to the other is wisdom.

What level of insight do you employ?

How would your associates view you?

What informs and conditions your thought process?

How discerning are you?

What sources and resources do you use to make decisions?

What ethical system influences your decisions?


To be continued…

Leadership & Formation #21: Unrealized Potential

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Posted by greg

stick_figure_popping_out_of_a_present_400_clr_13393.pngOne of the primary functions of a leader is to develop those under their charge.  Keen powers of observation are necessary to uncover the potential within another person.  Knowing someone’s potential and helping them realize their potential is one of the most rewarding experiences a leader can have.

When observing someone who reports to you or is within your sphere of relationships or influence a leader should pay attention to strengths, limitations, and weaknesses.  Intentional assessment of these areas will reveal a person’s potential.  The goal at this point is to encourage that person to explore their potential and come to a realization that they have a greater capacity and capability then they may realize.

A person’s strengths are comprised of an amalgamation of their spiritual gifts, natural abilities, acquired skills, personality temperament, core values, discovered axiomatic operating principles, experience, and worldview.  The configuration of these elements, the dominance of these factors, and the ways which they are applied to events, circumstances, and situations make each individual jut that; individually unique.

Although there exists a wide variety of instruments designed to reveal the many dimensions that make us human; observation of a person in a variety of settings will yield a relatively accurate picture of their God-ordained design, what they offer, and how they can make their greatest contribution to a team, a vision, an objective, or a goal.

Limitations are not weaknesses.  Limitations include one area that cannot be mediated and two that can.  A person may not have the aptitude demanded of the responsibility they have been given.  For instance, if they are put in charge of finances for a project and are required to manage a complex budget yet they have no aptitude for numbers or financial structures they may be doomed to failure.  The toe other areas include experience and training; both of which can be mediated by providing opportunities to gain experience or acquire the training necessary for success.  So, aptitude, experience and training and the lack thereof is not a weakness; it is a limitation.

A weakness may be a character flaw, a compromised work ethic, a poor attitude or the like.  These ‘weaknesses’ may also be mediated but will more than likely take time and patience before a person can conquer these inadequacies.  As a leader, manage, or supervisor, you may not have the time to do so especially when a short project deadline looms over the team.

Two factors repeatedly prevent someone from realizing their full potential – competence and confidence.  Because of legitimate limitations or weaknesses such as a lack of discipline, a person may experience varying degrees of performance that may adversely impact their competence and confidence thereby affecting the subsequent successful completion of assigned tasks.

So, developing your powers of observation can facilitate your ability to accurate assess someone’s strengths, limitations, and weaknesses.  What will become apparent is and understanding of the unrealized potential resident in an individual.  Strategies can then be formulated to help them engage their unrealized potential so that they can enjoy new opportunities to exercise their new found awareness.  They may be hesitant at first to explore their potential for fear of failure or simply because of unfamiliarity.  The leader may have to exert their influence as a sage on the stage or a guide by the side until the person is more comfortable in the exercise of their potential. 

A leader may have to adjust their leadership style to accommodate the ability (competence) and readiness (confidence). 

If the team member is unable and unwilling or insecure they may have to be directed and shown specifically how to accomplish the task, objective, or role.  In this case the leader simply describes the steps necessary to effectively and efficiently complete the task, objective or role.

If the team member is unable but willing or confident the leader might have to coach them through encouragement, empowerment, or exhortation.  The leader may still make the final decision but explains the rationale to the team member for learning purposes

If the team member is able but unwilling or insecure the leader may have to shift from a sage on the stage to a guide by the side where the team member is given the opportunity to make the decision with guidance and encouragement from the leader.

If the team member is able and willing or confident the leader should delegate responsibility to the member, observe their performance, and offer timely advice and suggestions as needed or requested.

The reader may recognize this adaptable leadership style as situational leadership.  One caution is needed at this point.  One’s potential has a boundary.  The worst thing a leader can do is to promote the notion that team members can dos anything they set their mind to doing if they are committed and disciplined.  That, frankly, is not true.  A team member can do what they have the capability and competence to do.  Forcing someone beyond their capability and competence will only break their spirit.

People should not be treated as tools or functionaries but valuable resources imbued by his or her Creator to contribute in significant ways to worthwhile endeavors.  Helping people realize their God-given potential can only help and organization to reach seemingly impossible dreams.

More on this subject will follow…


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Leadership & Formation #20: Mentoring Contract

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Posted by greg

stick_figure_holding_letter_x_400_clr_7741.pngThis final post on mentoring addresses the specifics that must be thought through before a mentoring relationship is established.  These items should be considered regardless of whether you intend to mentor someone or be mentored by someone.  They help to frame the relationship in terms of expectations and accountability.  When you seek a mentor it would be helpful to think through these items to help define the rules of engagement.

Your prospective mentor may not go to this detail but you should.  If you mentor someone, you should come to conclusions on each of the ten issues that follow so that the parameters of a successful encounter are established in advance and in accordance with your preferences. 

You can also use the list that follows as talking points in your initial interview with a prospective mentoree or mentor.

Jointly agree on the purpose of the relationship.

(Present the objective(s) for the mentoring relationship.  Determine the type of mentor needed.  Identify the area(s) that need to be addressed.) 

Set the criteria for evaluation.

(What will a successful outcome look like?  How will you know the objective(s) have been accomplished?  Have the mentoree describe what they hope to accomplish.)

Determine the regularity of interaction.

(Should be a minimum of twice a month.  Could be more depending on the needs of the mentoree and the availability of the mentor.  Should begin as a 3-month trial.)

Determine accountability parameters.

(Honesty, vulnerability, accountability and whatever else is required by the mentor and agreed upon by the mentoree.  What accountability parameters will be applied?)

Set up communication mechanisms.

(Email, phone, face-to-face, Skype, etc. —whichever is the most convenient.  At least one face-to-face meeting is required per month in addition to second or additional meetings by phone and/or email.)

Clarify the level of confidentiality.

(What is shared on a personal level must remain confidential unless it is of a legal nature (i.e., abuse of any kind, a crime, etc.)

Set the life cycle of the relationship.

(Three months for a preliminary timeframe at the end of which each of you should evaluate the relationship.  If you are in agreement to continue set an end date not to exceed 6 additional months—a total of 9 months).

Evaluate the relationship from time to time.

(Recommend an evaluation every two to three months). 

Modify expectations to fit the real-life mentoring situation.

(If an issue or concern arises that needs more focused attention the mentor and mentoree should decide whether the parameters of mentoring need to be changed).

Bring the mentoring relationship to a close.

(Celebrate the completion of the journey.  Have the mentoree write about the experience and what was accomplished).

I hope this post and the posts on mentoring have been helpful to you in formulating your plans to be mentored and to mentor others.  Mentoring was obviously a subject or great interest to many of you.  Remember, those who finish well have had anywhere from 10 to 15 significant mentors in their life (intensive/intentional, occasional, and passive).

To be continued with a new subject area…


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