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 bargaining, negotiating, 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, bargaining, negotiating, 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?