Posts Tagged ‘context’

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

 

Informed Perceptions

August 14, 2011

It’s frequently said: “Perception is all.”

Significant research indicates that Asians and Westerners think and perceive differently. University of Michigan scholar Richard Nisbett’s famous experiment showed pictures of a fish tank to American and Japanese. They were asked to describe what they saw. Interestingly, Americans most often described the largest and most prominent fish in the tank. Japanese made 60 percent more references to the context elements. They commented far more often on the water, rocks, bubbles and plants in the tank.

Context & Interdependence

Charles Blow’s recent (6 August)   New York Times editorial alerts us to context, relationships, paradox, and interdependence. He notes the “greatest casualties of the great recession will be a decade of lost children.” He includes troubling findings from The State of America’s Children produced by The Children’s Defense Fund. Their findings indicate:

  • Since 2000, four million more children live in poverty. The increase between 2008-9 is the largest single year increase ever recorded.
  • The number of homeless children in public schools increased 41 percent 2006-7 and 2008-9 school years.
  • The majority of children in all social groups and 79 percent or more of Black and Hispanic children in public schools cannot read or do math at grade level in 4th, 8th or 12th grades.
  • The annual cost of center-based child care for a 4-year old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 33 states.

Focus Influences Perception

These demographics describe important symptoms of human distress. While child advocates may know this information – most others don’t. Yet, these demographics  have implications for all of us. They signal growing and new concerns for K-12 education, health care and other sectors. Blow’s editorial provides a critical service. He offers visibility to the invisible and vulnerable. Many people tend to focus on the “foreground:” our own children, neighbor or grand kids. He asks us to consider a larger picture.

Differences in perception vary by gender, age, culture, income and other factors. A perspective may be valid, but is it limited? Be sure to consider both the big fish and other elements of the fish tank. It may significantly influence plans or other factors related to effectiveness. Inclusion and cultural competence can expand our view and  results.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com


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