Archive for September, 2015

Relatively Better

September 30, 2015

lemonlime

The conversation I had with a board member of a deeply influential organization some months ago was troubling.

In that exchange, he described behavior of senior management as incompetent. Later, he said “But all these organizations are a mess.”

No Worse Than Jones

Relativism is a common discard. You can set the bar anywhere you want. It’s possible to rationalize almost anything by noting those who are also behaving badly or worse. Read this list and add to it the relative comments you have heard:

  • Nope, the Catholic Church has not done right by women. But, look at the Muslims.
  • Yes, teen pregnancy rates are terrible in Michigan. But, look at New Mexico and Mississippi.
  • While cronyism is common, it’s nothing like financial fraud.
  • Football and basketball coach salaries may be excessive, but look at Wall Street.
  • Air pollution is awful in California, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Pakistan.

Insecure people and brittle organizations rush to defend. Regardless of goodwill and constructive capacity, when a critical remark is made, one can expect a counter punch. Unskilled  managers wear an over-sized winner’s ribbon with an inscription proclaiming: “Not the Worst!”

Context Warp

Compensation is a typical yardstick to underscore relativism. Almost everybody looks “up,” rarely down or sideways at money. A bonanza for one man becomes the standard for another’s excess. So when the former president of Yale received an “additional retirement benefit” of $8.5 million in 2013, Columbia’s annual presidential compensation of $3.4 million looked nearly paltry. Does anyone ever mention the context is warped?

Now and then, we hear some contrast. Noting the “best in class” can be inspiring and motivating. It can encourage a different attitude, e.g., why can’t we? If New Hampshire has the lowest teen pregnancy rate, then what’s going on there we might need to learn?

While defending territory can be a common reaction to critical comments, a far more useful response are great questions. A learning attitude and listening ears are important assets. They both have the potential to support improvement which delivers, in turn, results. In serving a planned vision, leaders set standards by word and actions. Everything is not relative. It’s vital to have expectations for what’s right and what’s wrong, not simply what’s better or worse.

 Less Evil

Certainly, acting less evil isn’t the same as being virtuous. Regardless of whether others make the effort, leaders offer a principled example. Recognizing this and pressing for accountability requires important perspective: some people call it leadership.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

 

Rules and Games

September 24, 2015

chessbd

Creating change that matters often involves public arguments.

Important social practices we consider routine (like seatbelts, Kindergarten, recycling, minimum wages) would have never happened if change leaders hadn’t persuaded powerful interests what was necessary for the common good.

Rules and Games

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary and a public policy professor at UC Berkley, writes thoughtfully about how American markets are shaped through the rules government creates. In a recent essay about how Big Tech influences business, he wrote, “Legislators, agency heads and judges decide the rules of the game. And, over time, they change the rules. The important question, too rarely discussed, is who has the most influence over these decisions and in that way wins the game.”

Highly-effective, veteran lobbyist George Franklin, author of Cereal Wars, concurs with Reich. Franklin’s engaging text offers many sage tips and examples of navigating the corridors of Congress. The lessons he offers about relationships and strategy apply equally to state capitols and local councils.

Technically, advocacy is about organized efforts and actions that establish laws and policies that will create a just society. Practically,  advocacy is the capacity to understand and affect power towards a negotiated outcome. Advocacy may require participation in elections, mass mobilization, civil action, lobbying, bargaining and court actions. Influencing public (and administrative) policy can create important and sustainable shifts in resources and practices.

 Advocacy Strategy

Advocacy is nearly always part of change-making. It asks something of others, frames demands and intentionally (and unintentionally) provokes conflicts of interests. As you seek what’s more fair, create your advocacy strategy with an external and internal review. The Advocacy Institute suggests these focusing questions:

External Assessment         Internal Assessment
What do you want?        What have we got (allies, funds, other)?
Who can give it to you?        What resources do we need to develop?
What do they need to hear?        How do we begin?
Who do they need to hear it from?        How do we know if it’s working?
How can you get them to hear it?

Issues like AIDS prevention, deforestation, child welfare, fishing rights, water quality, food safety, equal pay and countless others are vital concerns for you, your organization and community. Big and little changes require timely advocacy. Capable advocates are “in the game” and players who help others make smart rules. Simply put, skilled leaders welcome public engagement; it’s a vital part of creating change.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com


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