B&D 19-20: Improving Leadership Practice (Part 2)

What does it mean to practice reframing?

Bolman and Deal (2017) posited this through two questions:

  1. “From this perspective, what’s going on?”
  2. “And what options does this view suggest?” (p. 409-10)

Through the provided case study, Bolman and Deal demonstrate how King breaks down the issues he is facing through the lens of each of the four frames.  What I find most important is that King is doing this over the course of the weekend and after a public blow-up by two of his staff.  He is faced with pivotal decisions immediately.  It is clear that what happens next can make or break King’s tenure.

First, King acknowledged his mishandling of the staff meeting where Carver threatened Dula.  This is something that does not always happen with leaders.  Similar to the Model I theory, people will often blame others.  King easily could have put the onus on Carver and Dula.  Instead, as the leader, he recognized his role in the situation and that he needed to do something to make amends for his lack of action at the moment.

Then, King systematically evaluated the overall school situation through each of the four frames by using the two questions provided by Bolman and Deal.  King took the time to focus on each frame, determined how it could help or hinder, and then determined actions to take.

Ultimately, King developed a strategy to tackle the issues he was facing, taking into account the various perspectives of the staff and faculty.  King wrote out answers to the two questions to craft a course of action.  He mapped a pathway.  Whether it will work or not is a different story, however, a plan was devised that accounted for the four frames, the situation, and the associated people.

More importantly, King managed to do this in the context of ethics and spirit.  In devising responses and potential actions, these two concepts were always a part of the solutions.  King easily could have succumbed to negative approaches for each of the frames in handling the situations.  As the principal, King could have entered with an “iron fist,” using is power and authority to decree to all the new rules.  He could have capitulated to each individual complaint he received, promising everything to everyone.  King could have pit the various factions against each other to fight it out until only one side prevailed.  Lastly, he could have allowed the areas to further entrench themselves in their own agendas essentially eliminating the common purpose of the school.

But he did none of those things.  King approached the dilemma by using the reframing ethics: excellence, caring, justice, and belief.  He advocated the use of authorship, love, power, and significance.

As the case study ends, who knows how things will turn out.  There will likely be missteps and mistakes along the way.  Maybe some of the faculty and staff will refuse to buy-in and decide to resign or are asked to leave.  Perhaps other catastrophes will pop-up as progress is being made.  Setbacks will likely occur.

What I have learned throughout my time in higher education is that no progress is linear.  Change is messy.  Having a plan is helpful, but always be ready for Plan B, C, and maybe even D.  This is why reframing and reflection are vital.   It is rare when things work exactly the way want them to.  Therefore, we have to take a second to reflect on what happened, try to understand why, and prepare to take a new approach.

The four frames working in concert with one another will enhance the opportunity that change will be successful.  The most important thing we can do is practice the process of reflecting and reframing when we have the chance, so when we are vaulted into a situation similar to King, we will have the best chance at achieving positive results.

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B&D 16-18: Improving Leadership Practice (Part 1)

Frames generate scripts, or scenarios, to guide action in high-stakes circumstance.
(Bolman & Deal, 2017, p. 323)

The four frames are really preferences.  We are capable of operating in all four frames.  I may be more comfortable in the structural frame compared to the human resources frame, however, I am capable of doing both.  It is figuring out when I may need to step out of my comfort zone and implement a new frame.  Then when I determined that I cannot stick a square peg in a round hole, am I equipped to actually use the intended frame?

It is clear to be a successful leader, one has to be adept at shifting between and using all four frames.  Even operating in only two of the frames is not sufficient.  Each of the frames has advantages and disadvantages.  The same frame cannot be used at all times for all situations.  It is just not feasible.

One may be able to use their top two for a bit, but at some point, it will be critical to tap into your third or fourth.  This is more draining.  It takes more energy and effort.  It requires conscious attention.

Your top two frames can happen almost subconsciously.  You naturally slip into those modes.  But to use the other two frames, there is more work that needs to be done.

Practice, practice, practice.

We can only make this happen if we take the time to reflect on our situations, decisions, and actions.  There has to be a recognition that mistakes will be made.  We have to take into account multiple perspectives.  Our own lens is clouded by our salient identities and life experiences.  We are better served to take a moment to think beyond our initial thought.  A deep breath before responding or reacting.  A slight pause to collect one’s thoughts and ideas.  You do not make a better decision by responding first.

As leadership theory continues to shift towards transformational, relational, and collective models, the capacity to move among the four frames becomes more critical.  But perhaps even more importantly is self-efficacy.  This is where practice comes in.  The more opportunities one has to practice, the more comfortable one will be in moving from frame to frame.  Many times people have the capacity but lack the self-efficacy.

Even more so, as highlighted by Bolman and Deal, there are differences in culture and genders when it comes to leadership.  As the world becomes more accessible to all, it is imperative for leaders to take on greater perspective taking.

Though not highlighted by Bolman and Deal, there is significant literature around differences between gender and race/ethnicity when it comes to leadership development in college-aged students.  The Multi-Institutional Leadership Study has been conducted since 2009 and has produced numerous articles as to how students differ on the Seven C’s associated with the Social Change Model of Leadership Development.  Granted the SCM is only one leadership model and is specific to college-aged students, it does provide evidence that leadership development cannot be approached the same way for all people.  There is a nuance to what depths and breadths of experience and opportunities may be more beneficial to students based on their identity.

Therefore, if one is looking to change an organization, rushing in, moving, and changing things, people, structures, symbols is detrimental to the longterm prospect of success.  Just because something worked somewhere else does not mean it will work here.  Cultures are different.  The successes and problems are different.  The people are different.  What is significant is different.  The structures are different.

As UNF finds itself in the midst of a presidential transition, things will likely change.  The Board of Trustees provides the vision and the President is asked to make sure it comes to fruition.  The President may have discretion as to how the vision is achieved and therefore sets priorities based on their ideas with ample input from other constituents including students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and community members.  But anytime change occurs, each frame will experience difficulties.  With practice and experience, we can shift our frame to another perspective.  If we understand the script we are most comfortable with, but also read the scripts for those other frames, we are more likely to be successful in changing tides.

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B&D 12-14: The Symbolic Frame

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…

-Shakespeare, As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII)

One of the most symbolic activities that can take place at a university is the campus tour.  This overly curated, carefully crafted theatrical display demonstrates the organizational symbols and culture in deeply routinized ways.  Those providing the tours (a vast majority of the time students) are scrupulously recruited and selected for these roles.  Then they go through rigorous training to memorize specific intricacies of the institution that have been meticulously chosen to provide the best perspective of the school to sell prospective students and parents on the various aspects that will hopefully appeal to all parties.

They are also taught how to navigate the campus walking backward and never turning to look.  This is probably the most important part of the selection process.  Campus Tour Guides (CTG) are judged on their capacity to walk backward.  Sometimes they are blindfolded to prove their skill.  Those who cannot master this technique are relegated to scheduling tours and working the Welcome Center.  Only the elite backward walkers are permitted to actually wear the official CTG polo.  These individuals are the cream of the crop and keep prospective students and families on edge.  Every step the CTG takes, audible gasps are released by those on the tour, as the CTG deftly maneuvers around the random pole sticking out the ground.

The key statues, symbols, and spaces of the university are highlighted.  Every single instance of the university’s mascot or logo is pointed out.  The oddest rituals and ceremonies are shared.  The lore and myths are told in dramatic fashion.  Quasi-famous alumni (some legitimate ones depending on the campus) are spoken of as if they are heroes and heroines and are regularly spotted walking throughout campus.  These elements are interwoven into wonderfully spun fairy tales and stories.

“Thank you for joining us on our tour.  Did you know that our mascot is the [insert some random noun with a ridiculous adjective that does not describe the noun preceding it]?  Well, guess what!  During today’s tour, I am going to point out all 3,592 images of our mascot.  Don’t worry!  There is no quiz at the end.  The only expectation is that you will be able to share where 750 of them are on your application.”

“This is the Campus Green.  Anyone who is anyone spends at least three hours a day here.  Well, except on [insert random day Monday-Friday].  No one can be here on [insert random day Monday-Friday] because that’s the day they water the grass.  Well, no one is here except for the Crunchy Granola Club.  That’s shower day.”

“Upon graduation, every student in the [insert random academic program] strips down to their underwear and swims across [insert random body of water on campus].  Only two students out of the 25 in the four-year history of this extremely important departmental tradition have ever contracted Naegleria Fowleri.  So, don’t worry you will be safe.”

“If you are in [insert random building] at exactly this [insert random time] when a blood moon is in the sky, but only on the second Tuesday of the month, it is rumored you will see the ghost of [insert name of a dead person with some cursory relationship to school].” 

“This brick is where [insert famous alum] had their revelation to do [insert reason why the person is famous][Insert famous alum] can be seen here on the first and third Friday every five months relieving that initial experience and searching for the inspiration that spurred them to do [insert reason why the person is famous].”

ALL the best, components are on display.  The majors with the highest graduation and post-graduation placement rates are discussed.  Degree programs with the latest and greatest technology are toured.  Faculty members doing “cutting edge” research are highlighted.  The food in the cafeteria that day just so happens to be surf and turf.  The apartment and suite-style residence halls that first-year students are not eligible to reside are viewed.  The fantastic amenities.  Lazy rivers and pools.  Rock climbing walls.  The ice cream truck that gives out free Flintstone’s Grape Push Pops.

Lights!  Camera!  Action!  It is all a wonderful show! 

Granted everything depicted throughout the post to this point is the most extreme examples of how symbolism plays out on a campus.  These are important to selling the school based on what we believe people want to see, hear, and experience.

It provides the initial context to an idyllic culture that does not exist.  These elements are then either affirmed and reinforced or, more than likely, debunked as further interactions occur.  It is impossible to present the same face at all times that prospective students and families encounter during the campus tour.  As this mystical hour or two is slowly stripped away, the true culture of the institution begins to take shape and hold.  The true image begins to peek through the various cracks and crevices.

Everything that seemed perfect starts to lose its sheen.  As bureaucratic processes start to bury students in forms and reams of paper.  The complexities of federal, state, and local financial aid and funding where certain money cannot be accepted if you are taking money from this pot, but don’t forget that this pool of money exists too, but you forfeit all other money if you try to get this, and getting money from that pool not guaranteed.  All the smiley, clean cut, polo-wearing, extroverted people are replaced with mopey, socially awkward people, who always have earbuds in and wearing pajamas.  That is interspersed with random strangers who wander onto campus to express their “free speech” by shouting at students about how they are going to hell or showing them pictures of aborted fetuses.

The institution does everything it can to portray the school in the most favorable light imaginable.  Marketing materials.  Public relations statements.  Social media posts.  Manicuring of lawns.  Look of the buildings.  All of it is done to represent a particular image.  To depict a certain culture.

There is nothing wrong with that. 

The institution needs to do these things.  However, there is also an ethical responsibility to balance the espoused image with reality.  If the percentage of students of color on your campus is 20%, but 75% of your marketing materials are plastered with students of color, what message are you sending?  Are you accurately displaying the campus to those outside of the university?  Are you setting up students of color who think there will be a community for them at your institution based on what they see in your glossy magazine?  This is how the symbolic frame can be misleading.

Everything an institution does is a reflection of its values, either espoused or actual.  How resources are allocated.  The messages from the president.  The degrees that are conferred.  The programs that exist.  The traditions that take place.  These elements, along with the people, make up the culture.  The culture is what drives the institution forward in many ways.  A culture can make or break a school.  The symbols help to define the culture.  They establish shared meaning.  They make ethereal and ambiguous concepts of mission, vision, and values tangible.  I can see, touch, hear, experience symbols.  That is far more difficult with mission, vision, and values.

As performers in this grand play, we can help determine what is valued.  We have the capacity to influence what is important.  Our roles may shift and morph over time, yet we still have the ability to contribute to the symbols, rituals/ceremonies, myths, who are the heroes/heroines, and what stories are told.  As educational leaders, we can make these elements of the symbolic frame more like the reality and less like an Eden-esque environment.  We can make sure our environments and messages are more student-ready instead of trying to make sure our students are college-ready.

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B&D 9-11: The Political Frame

In taking the self-assessment, I was shocked that the Political Frame was my second highest percentile (70-79%), but upon reading the description and delving into the chapters, it makes far more sense.

In my initial reflection, I felt the reason for scoring high in this frame had more to do with previous roles I held.  After reading these three chapters, I realized that it had less to do with my position and more to do with being naturally comfortable in this frame.  However, this in tandem with my structural frame (90th percentile) also leads me to believe that I am more of the Thiokol engineer in the Challenger example.

Throughout over a decade in higher education, I learned that politics are always at play.  They are inherent in the work we do.  Bolman and Deal outlined five political assumptions and these happen naturally on college campuses.

Offices.  Departments.  Organizations.  Groups.  Divisions.  Committees.  Task Forces.  Centers.  We use every word but the word coalition.  I would argue they are all synonymous.  Technically, no matter what we call ourselves we are part of the larger university coalition to graduate students.

And we definitely have differences.  Sit in a room with a bunch of people and listen long enough.  You will soon realize that even with the same over-arching goal, graduating students, we will have different approaches and priorities as to how we reach that goal.  Some would advocate for more full-time faculty to help balance course loads and increase opportunities for tenured-faculty to mentor students in research initiatives.  Others would claim more money is needed for co-curricular programming to assist with experiential learning and practical applications of what is learned in the classroom.  Even others would suggest upgraded facilities would attract higher quality employees and students alike.  All viable and potential solutions.  Simply different perspectives as to the approach.

However, there are limited resources to go around.  Budgets are finite and restricted by student enrollment, state allocations, performance funding, fundraising dollars, and endowment performances.  There just is not enough money.  There never is enough money.  Beyond financial resources, there is an issue of human capital.  People’s time and energy are also finite and need to be considered in this equation.

Therefore, conflict is ingrained in this mix, as the differences still exist and resources are becoming fewer and fewer.  We all have solutions to achieve the goal of graduating students, but we only have the resources to choose one option.  So what do we do?  How do we hash out the differences to determine the best way to use our resources to maximize the return on investment.  How do we manage the conflict?  Ultimately, who has the power to unilaterally decide, or where do the power centers lie that can wrest control away from a select few.

This goes to say, there is nothing innately wrong with conflict.  It is a natural component of leadership.  The Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996) uses the phrasing “controversy with civility.”  Where conflict can go wrong is if the person engaging in the conflict gets lost in the “moral maze” or perhaps is not adept at emotional intelligence.  As a leader, are you prepared to navigate the conflict either between your self or between members of the coalition?  How do you guide the coalition through the fifth proposition of the political frame?

Finally, this all comes to the final assumption of bargainingnegotiating, and jockeying for position.  If you believe you have the best option, how do you convince others of that?  Who else do you bring onboard to your side?  What are you willing to give up to make sure your option is chosen?  When do you realize it is best to quit while you are ahead?  To live and fight another day?  When do you abandon your choice for another winning proposition?  Do you?

Let’s say your option is selected.  That’s great!  Congratulations!  Now, do you have the political (and leadership) skills to see it through?

What’s the agenda?  Do you have a vision and a strategy?

You got what you wanted, but others did not.  What’s the political terrain now that the decision was made?  Who supports the decision?  Where is the power concentrated?  Did new power centers form?

What networks or coalitions need to be constructed to do the work?  Who are your champions that can help usher the initiative?  Who are key players that can make important things happen?  Who are the linchpins?  The people that can make the initiative smoother or more difficult.

Finally, what additional bargaining and negotiating may need to take place?  Do you need to deliver on previous bargains and negotiations because your option was selected?  What else may need to be figured out or smoothed over?  More importantly, how do you ensure that this is accomplished in an ethical and just manner, where it is “creating value” and not simply “claiming value.”

These are not easy waters to navigate.  Comfort in them usually comes with a lot of practice, a willingness to make mistakes, and sometimes just abject failure.  My best learning experience with the political frame was also a more humbling experience for me.  Some people might say that the ends arguably did not justify the means.  Without giving away too much, I learned A LOT about the five assumptions proposed by Bolman & Deal, all from one meeting.

Building coalitions are difficult propositions because everyone has their own motives and goals.  Differences definitely exist even when you believe you are aiming for the same thing.  Limited resources can make people extra defensive, especially when their perception is that they are being attached.  Conflict is difficult to manage when the power differential is disproportionately skewed, and not in your favor.  Lastly, bargainingnegotiating, and jockeying may not always be an option when you are being faced with disciplinary action.

In the end, the results were worth it.  I would change the process a bit, but the outcome made the threat of future disciplinary action worth it in my opinion.  A meaningful change was brought about to a process that others and I felt was unjust.  This is where each person has to decide whether what they are doing through this particular frame is ethical and just.  More than any other that has been reviewed to this point, the political frame has an added emphasis to these dimensions.  Are you willing and able to live with the potential consequences of getting what you think is best?  Can you look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about what you did?  Is the juice worth the squeeze?

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B&D 6-8: Human Resource Frame

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

Ahh… the Human Resource frame.  Of the four frames presented by Bolman and Deal (2017), this is the frame that I am the least comfortable and operate from less often.  I am capable of operating from this frame, it takes more effort and energy for me to do so.  It does not feel natural to me.  It feels inauthentic.  It’s as if I am playing a role to appease others.  With that being said, there are definitive ways and opportunities where I operate from this frame.

One of the key ways is considering “fit.”  As a graduate student in my master’s program, this was discussed frequently as being an important component of the job search process.  Most of us ignored that because we were far more concerned with getting a job.  Plus, we had just spent two years in a tiny town in Northwest Ohio during two of the coldest and snowiest winters in some time, so anywhere doing anything would be better.  “Fit” was something nice to say to each other, with a faculty member, or on an interview.  At that time, I told myself I would “fit” at any school that wanted me.

Reflecting back on that experience, having gone through job searches since, and been a hiring officer, I realized “fit” is extremely important.  If we are going to make progress towards achieving our goals and mission, then I need to be intentional about finding individuals who match the culture I am trying to foster.  Through the search and interview process, I am looking for someone who has the capacity to do the job, has the drive to learn more, and is interested in advancing the work.  Therefore it is my responsibility to establish a “process” (ahh… structural frame strikes again) to make sure that I can determine whether the “fit” would be good.  All the while recognizing the people pursuing the opening are also trying to determine whether the role is a good “fit” for them.

This is made even more complicated when I have limited extrinsic rewards (salary, benefits, professional development opportunities, location) to offer to help entice better potential talent.

My hope is that I can sell them on the ideas of motivation associated with Daniel Pink’s work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  These are elements I have control over and can influence.  Through conversations and setting expectations, I will better understand to what degree I need to manage/supervise, develop, and inspire a new employee.  Ultimately, the process (structural frame) may be the same for employees (for example, one-on-one meetings) but through the human resource frame, I tailor the experience of these meetings to “fit” the needs of the staff member.  One staff member may only need 30 minutes and only wants to discuss work.  Another may want an hour and wants to conduct our meetings while walking.  As the leader of the organization, I get to determine how much I tailor my style to adapt to their needs.

If I am doing my job correctly, I should be setting up those I supervise to take my job.

Am I providing developmentally appropriate responsibilities?  Am I giving the employee opportunities to restructure initiatives?  Is the employee getting chances to learn and develop new skills?  Is the person achieving the goals that WE have discussed?  Are WE accomplishing the goals WE discussed?  Am I respecting and valuing that person’s time and energy?  Have I scaffolded aspects of the job to provide reasonable professional growth?  Are there opportunities for the employee to interact with others on committees, task forces, or other similar groups?  Many of these questions reflect the Basic Human Resource Strategies shared by Bolman and Deal (2017, p. 138).

In evaluating the Argyris and Schon Model II (Bolman & Deal, 2017, p. 164), I hope that I am operating most often in the integrative and accommodating quadrants.  Reality and experience let me know that I have a tendency to drift towards passive depending on the situation.  I use the passive quadrant as a way to avoid making decisions.  I put the onus of the decision-making on another person instead of when I know I should be the one deciding.  I say that it is a part of that person’s professional growth.  At times, it is.  Other times, it is me not wanting to say yes or no to something.  I am deferential to the point of indecisiveness, until I reached my tipping point.  This usually occurs when I feel that we are no longer making progress or no one is going to decide.  This is where I rarely find myself in the assertive quadrant.  It is these latter occasions and when I am EXTREMELY passionate about the issue.

As a leader, I attempt to take on the role that the group needs most while taking into account my own strengths.  My MBTI is ISTJ (similar to one of the examples in the book).  I have done numerous personality assessments (True Colors – Green; Gallup StrengthsFinder – learner, input, strategic, achiever, and analytical; and, DiSC – Conscientiousness; just to name a few) to understand how I will tend to operate in a given situation and the role I may be most comfortable within a group.  Over time, I have learned that there are situations where I need to step out of my “comfort zone” and take on a different role than I would prefer for the group to be successful.  At the same time, I am also attempting to discern where others strengths lie so we can capitalize on the things we are all good at and minimize spending time on things that do not come as naturally to us.

This is easier the more you work with the same people.  You begin to understand tendencies and people become more comfortable in expressing concerns or saying how they really feel.  There is trust built over time that makes the process easier.  When new individuals are entered into the fold, it takes time to build that trust.  The original group has established norms and people have taken on established roles.  The new person has not learned what these norms and roles are yet.  It would behoove both parties, the organization and the new person, to take some time to understand one another before either starts throwing boulders into the pond.

“Good leaders are sensitive to both task and process” (Bolman & Deal, 2017, p. 177).  As much as I love systems and processes, there still is and always will be a HUMAN element to them.  The HUMAN element is what makes the system operate at its highest efficiency.  People who care about the work they do, want to make things better, and are given opportunity to do just that, make things better, that is how a system can work at its peak level.  That is how a university can work to graduate students at a higher rate and with better skills and knowledge, to be more productive members of society.

So, structures can help create the environments necessary, but the people have to want to do the work.  And if we want them to do their best work, we have to remember what Maya Angelou said.  They will remember how they felt, so we need to make sure they feel like the matter and belong because they should.

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B&D 3-5: The Structural Frame

This is my wheelhouse.  Give me all the numbers, analysis, systems, structures, 4193e4911291e11a7d37b79cbe16a031--towel-basket-towel-origamiprocesses, procedures…

According to the leadership assessment conducted in the first class session and my own experience, I know the structural frame is the frame that I operate most comfortably in and allows me to thrive.  Structures and efficiencies are like fresh towels straight out of the dryer.  Fluffy.  Warm.  Comforting.  They even smell fresh.

The structural frame allows me to use many of my signature themes associated with Gallup’s StrengthsFinder: analytical, learner, achiever, restorative, and strategic.  I learn about the organization.  I analyze the whole into its various pieces and parts.  I strategize how the pieces could fit together in new and innovative ways.  I restore the pieces into a new whole to hopefully create a more collaborative and innovative whole.  Finally, I make small achievements by accomplishing goals and tasks along the entire process.  Much of this process mirrors the Principles of Successful Structural Change highlighted by Bolman and Deal (2017), so that is affirming.

In fact, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about the structural frame and working from that perspective.

I view the structural frame as an intense examination of processes, efficiencies, and systems.  Bolman and Deal (2017) utilized the analogy of a factory.  Coincidentally, my father is a machinist, and I worked with him while I was growing up.  Though not technically a factory for mass production, there are many similar components in a machine shop.  The main concerns are accuracy and efficiency.  A machine is programmed to do the job.  The worker has to make sure that the machine runs constantly and as smoothly as possible.  As the worker, I have to determine how to make sure the mill has the least amount of downtime.  At the same time, I have to make sure that it is still functioning and producing parts that meet the required specifications.

To meet these ends, I create a system.  I study the run time of the machine to complete the part.  I examine when tools change.  I establish how long it takes for me to insert raw material in the clamps and then to remove a completed part.  I determine how much time from hitting start I have to do other tasks: clean and deburr the part; check the part specifications; and, stack, box, and package completed parts.  This would be done for thousands to tens of thousands of parts depending on the job.

As I complete more parts, I look for ways to trim time off the various tasks.  Is there downtime during a tool change that I can quickly switch out a completed part with a new piece of raw material?  This would decrease the amount downtime for the machine.  Do I need to check every completed part, or can I check every tenth part?  This would allow me to check a different component of each part while still maintaining quality control.   Is there a better way to package the completed parts that reduce shipping materials?  This saves the company some money and adds to the bottom line.  I keep making tweaks until I get to a point where it is seemingly impossible to trim any more time.

I get the system as efficient as possible and then create smaller output goals for myself to stay focused.  I knew what other employees produced and I always strove to outdo their output.  If I knew I should produce at least 30 parts an hour based on the system, then anything less than 30, was a disappointment and I need to fix something in the system, myself.

I was provided the autonomy to do what I thought would be best to produce the required parts as quickly and efficiently,  as possible.  My work there was a combination of an industrial analyst and scientific management dream: optimal efficiency and specification.  Shortly after I started working with my dad, I was primarily placed on jobs that had short machine run times and high part counts.  Mass production jobs with short timeframes for completion.

This environment allowed me to do my best work.  I was not bothered by other people.  They let me do my work and complete the task at hand.  I only stopped to eat lunch.  I figured out how to incorporate bathroom and drink breaks into machine run times.  It was almost as if I was trying to be a part of the machine.

Higher education does not necessarily work the same way, yet fascinates me.  To me, it is a highly inefficient system with the utmost potential.

I WANT TO FIX IT!  Addressing some of the structures could assist with that process.

Bolman and Deal frequently used Harvard as an example of a decentralized structural system, yet highlight its success through the structural frame.  However, they also recognize that Harvard operates in a space, unlike public institutions.  I have primarily worked in regional, public institutions of higher education.  None anywhere close to the prestige, or the endowment, of Harvard.  However, other schools could still reach and surpass, the effectiveness of Harvard through a structural frame.

At UNF, a perceived issue is the siloing of various offices, departments, and divisions.  Are there small attempts to break these walls down?  Of course.  The problem is not the effort of a few individuals to try and create a more collaborative environment.  It is often the various structures that affect the behavior of the people.  As Bolman and Deal pointed out, most of the time the person will cave to the culture of the organization instead of a person shifting the culture.

Institutions of higher education are highly complex organizations; often operating in the divisionalized form proposed by Mintzberg’s model.  Different schools and divisions will have variations of the size and how the five-sectors (operating core, middle line, strategic apex, technostructure, and support staff) interact with each other.  Within these divisions, there will be varying structures (simple structure, machine bureaucracy, professional bureaucracy, adhocracy).  As one can see, this would create a highly complex, and often confusing, environment for a new employee trying to manage and understand how to accomplish simple tasks that may cut across these divisional lines.  At the same time, this structure makes it difficult, institutionally, to create change and support innovation.

As Bolman and Deal highlighted in the latter part of chapter four, UNF is starting to experience significant restructuring.  With the advent of a new president, many people are freaking out about the possibility of “what could happen.”  Whereas, UNF has been going through this growing pain for the past few years.  Starting with the appointment of Dr. Earle Traynam as Interim Provost, UNF has seen quite the transition in leadership and with that restructuring within various divisions, academic units, and departments.  This process will only continue with a new president, and that process has already started with the departure of some senior-level leaders.

This will be my third time being at an institution that has gone through a significant change in leadership either at the presidential-level or massive restructuring of divisions.  I have seen the ushering in of a new president and the complete dissolution and absorption of divisions.  Every time this happens, people have to make difficult decisions about their own future in the emerging landscape.  Most of the time, the panic many people experience, especially those who are part of the operating core, is unwarranted because not many things change.  Some priorities may shift, but the overall goal of the institution remains the same: graduate students.


Bolman and Deal stated that change in higher education typically is glacial.  I have to agree.  Where smaller units/departments may be able to turn on a dime, it takes a far greater effort to turn the Titanic.  I don’t believe that UNF is going to sink, like the Titanic, simply that it will take a monumental effort to change the school’s current trajectory.  There has always been a plan for growth (up to 25000 students), many would agree that there needs to be a stronger emphasis on research (as this can supplement decreases in state financial support and increase the university profile), and there needs to be greater emphasis on performance associated with the SUS Metrics (this is our reality).  These are not new things.  The change may be how we go about addressing these goals.

It will be interesting to see how this latest transition will play out.  My perception of Dr. Szymanski is that he operates out of the structural and political frames more than the human resources and symbolic frames.  This is from an EXTREMELY small, and somewhat unreliable, sample size of an interview, anecdotal information, and rumor.  It is also somewhat different than President Delaney, who I would argue most frequently implemented the human resources and symbolic frames.  As this transition occurs, I am interested to see if the structure (culture of UNF in this case) bends our new president or if the new president bends the structure.

Ultimately, the process will be a fascinating case study of leadership; one that I am looking forward to witnessing and experiencing.  Being a part of it and examining what takes place from my preferred structural frame is exhilarating.

It’s like the dryer just buzzed and I have a fresh load of towels to remove and fold.

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B&D: Chapters 1, 2, & 15

In laying out the premise for the book, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, Bolman and Deal (2017) established their four frames (human resources, structural, political, and symbolic) and also indicated two other important issues of leadership: asking the “right” questions and the importance of failure.  Though it seems the crux of their book will focus on the four frames, I was more intrigued by asking the “right” questions and the importance of failure.  It was these two points that I feel are ubiquitous through all four frames posed by Bolman and Deal.

As the authors referenced Senge, the ideas of mental models and systems thinking are important aspects of leadership.  I believe that these two disciplines are exercised best when the “right” questions are being asked and the space for failure is allowed to occur.  When a failure (maybe a more digestible term, mistake) occurs it should create the opportunity to explore what went wrong and why.  However, this will not work unless there is initial trust to take chances that could end in failure or mistakes.

I see too often that people are scared to do assessment because it could show that what they are doing is ineffective and essentially demonstrate that their work is not beneficial.  As this is definitely an outcome of an assessment, in my opinion, it is the wrong “frame” with which to view “negative” results.  The purpose of assessment is to create a learning cycle of continuous improvement.  Some initiatives will not advance the mission or outcomes in ways we would necessarily want or expect.  However, it would be better to know this information and make necessary tweaks, adjustments, or scrap these programs, then it would be to bury our heads in the sand and “hope” that what we are doing is working.

The second item, asking the “right” questions, again cuts across all four frames.  Each frame requires asking the “right” questions to get to the crux of an issue or situation.  And based on the content of chapter 15, it seems asking the “right” question can often determine the frame that may be most beneficial to use based on the context and situation.   At the same time, asking the “right” question can lead to new insight and perspective.  One of the things I dislike most about higher education is how “tradition” can trump innovation.  Tradition is important, but it cannot override the need for change.  This is where data (yay! structural frame) can be extremely important to demonstrate how “tradition” may not be as beneficial as maybe one believes.  In addition, asking the “right” question may put us on a new path that leads to new and exciting initiatives.  Simply asking “Why?” can force people to examine their own mental models and provide a rationale for something they may not have previously considered.

Another issue that arose in reading the chapters had to do with the concept of ambiguity.  This term resonated across each of the three chapters.  There is an Intolerance of Ambiguity Scale assessment (Budner, 1962) that can be taken to understand how one deals with ambiguity.  The scale has three subscales (novelty, complexity, and insolubility) to further highlight what about ambiguity makes one more intolerant.  Higher scores on the assessment indicate higher levels of intolerance for ambiguity, which according to Bolman and Deal would have implications on one’s leadership.  Leaders need to be okay with ambiguity and able to navigate it.  What is concerning is that this is more difficult territory for mid-level managers as they are simultaneously leading and being lead where the two parties they are mediating often have differing and sometimes conflicting priorities.

One sentence from the chapters that was disconcerting was “Presidents who relied solely on the structural frame were particularly likely to be seen as ineffective leaders” (Bolman & Deal, 2017, p. 311).  As a person whose preference is the structural frame and being in the highest percentile (90-100th) and aspirations to serve in a senior leadership role, this statement was disappointing.  I completely understand that Bolman and Deal were showing leadership that emphasized using multiple frames to be more successful and how solely relying on one frame would only take someone so far.  However, one of the other frames that seemed to pop-up regularly in research was symbolic, a frame that I scored lower in (20-29th percentile).  The traditional view of a symbolic leader, charismatic, giving speeches, shaking hands, and kissing babies, is not my preference nor a strength of mine.  Having done Gallup StrengthsFinder, all of my signature themes are in Strategic Thinking (4 of 5) and Executing (1 of 5) with no signature themes in Influencing or Relationship Building.  Even previous versions of the assessment, where I had two other signature themes both of those were also in Strategic Thinking.

I often think about this as I consider the future of my career in higher education and particular student affairs.  I have aspirations to be a senior level administrator, yet I know I have significant shortcomings when it comes to “human resources” and “symbolic” frames discussed by Bolman and Deal.  At the same time, I know that these are potentially vital aspects that I need to develop and become more comfortable using more often.  I find that I seek out opportunities that allow me to default to my preferences of “structural” and “political” frames, instead of looking for chances to practice and stretch areas I need more work.  I have been thinking more about this recently with the presidential transition that will soon occur and what my longterm plans for UNF and Jacksonville will be.  This reflection has led to the realization that I have to start developing and using these other two frames more if I want to be seen as a viable candidate and considered for senior-level positions.

Posted in EDA 7262, Higher Ed, Leadership, Personal | Leave a comment