Personal Flexibility

In reading the insert, Part II: Deciphering Hidden Forces and Processes, from the book Process Consultation Revisited (1998), Edgar Schein made mention of “personal flexibility “in reference to becoming a better helper. I feel this is an essential characteristic for any consulting team, leader or helper to be effective in practice. Everyone has biases based on a number of factors, mainly from personal and professional experiences. Allowing these particular biases, while valid, to interfere with the helping process may harm the message given to the client, staff, or receiver. It proves to be very difficult to not allow your own personal/professional experiences to surface because after all these experiences contribute to you being deemed an “expert” in a particular area. How do you not let this influence your message? This is likely the dilemma of many consultants and leaders. Having personal flexibility should allow you to welcome new interpretations, while minimizing preconceptions that are derived from ones own experiences. While your experiences can be a tool to help to open up dialogue and enhance the relationship building process, we must remain flexible when interpreting issues (or problems) that we are called on to help or consult with. There are a number of factors that contribute to any problem/issue. Some of these issues are hidden, and in order to uncover the true essence of the issue and provide accurate interpretation and feedback, you must be open and flexible to all possibilities.


(Not so) Simple Communication

Communication is often the reason given for inefficient performance within a company, no matter the industry. Communication is vitally important to creating dialogue. Some may think dialogue and communication are synonymous, but as I read more from the text of Schein and reflect on life/career experiences, it makes me wonder if knowing how to effective communicate begins with unbiased learning through dialogue.  In order for the process consultant to truly fulfill its role as helper, there has to be an understanding of the psychodynamics of the subject as well as the technical issues.

As defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary, psychodynamics means –the interaction of various conscious and unconscious mental or emotional processes, especially as they influence personality, behavior, and attitudes. Further, the study of personality and behavior in terms of such processes.

 Examining the psychodynamics of a situation or client, a consultant must first be aware of its own biases and emotional triggers in order to be able to decipher and help the client. What preconceived judgments are there to make a consultant come to a “solution” for the client? In order to truly help a leader to understand how to effectively communicate with their team, in my opinion, a consultant must stress them to understand the psychodynamics of the individuals within the organization.

 Understanding HOW to communicate with an individual is the first step to effective dialogue. As a leader/owner/consultant/coach/manager it is important to understand and respect the theory of psychodynamics. Messages must be conformed with a sincere thought of the individual receiving in order to be effective.


What I’ve Learned about Organizational Change

Change is an inevitable component to all organizations. Whether there is change in leadership, restructuring of a division or merger of two companies, organizational change occurs on a small or large scale continuously. As a leader in higher education, one has to be aware that anytime there is a change in senior level leadership (presidents, provosts, deans), there will likely be some change that can/will occur.

For change to be successful it takes a combination of research (theory), strategy (dissection/facilitation) of your organization, as well as leadership that understands the people in the organization in order to motivate them to move forward. Theory based change is something that I took a major interest in during the first few weeks of this course. Kurt Lewin’s planned approach to change is really transcendent through times and I personally am captivated by his theories coming from the scope of social conflict, and a somewhat radical foundation. As a student of leadership, I am often fascinated by how leaders react, lead and emerge through crisis situations. “To a large extent, his interests and beliefs stemmed from his background as a German Jew.” (Burnes, 2006). Lewin worked closely with the problems of minority and disadvantaged groups. A quote that was attributed to Lewin, particularly stuck with me. “To be stable, a cultural change has to penetrate all aspects of a nations life. The change must, in short, be a change in the “cultural atmosphere” not merely a change of a single item.” This is the powerful view of change similarly shared by Dr. Paul Farmer as discussed in the book/journal Mountains Beyond Mountains about his journey to Haiti.

If change is calculated, strategic, with an open system approach, there is a higher likelihood of the “cultural” component to manifest. Changing a culture is complex, as it forces you to take a bottom up approach and pay close attention to the individuals who make up your organization. The people who make the “machine” run properly are actually sincerely involved in the change. Lewin’s 3-step model of “Unfreezing”, “Moving” and “Refreezing” is all in composing as it allows the organization to communicate the need for change, analyze the factors that it will take to make the change happen, unleash a vision (and strategy for facilitating the vision), and finally allows the organization to anchor itself down in the mission. The “change” becomes the new norm.

Group intervention/facilitation can be a key element to the “unfreezing” phase of Lewin’s model. It is imperative to analyze your organization so that you will know which facilitation will work best relative to your organization’s problem, component to change and objective. Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry are by far my favorites. I like the idea of structured collaboration. These two interventions allow you to analyze your organization through different scopes. It is imperative to analyze your organization through the concept of an open system. Once ideas are brought to the forefront through structured activity and communication, positive (and powerful) things can happen.
What I learned about organizational change is that it should be comprised of at least the following:
1. Effective leadership- to administer and monitor vision.
2. Analyzing period-figure out the needs and goals
3. Genuine collaboration-staff, stakeholders, etc
4. A precise yet flexible strategy
5. Motivate others to encourage buy-in
6. Execution—effective leaders from within
7. Investment—involvement by all in establishing a culture where change is the norm.

As the leader of an organization, while sometimes you can’t control when change occurs (e.g. mergers, senior leadership restructuring), you must approach it with a strategy. This is important to have in place for those who for those individuals who follow you. It also helps emphatically if you are internally driven and invested in the need and execution of change, as your energy will serve as the motivation for your organization to follow, e.g. Dr. Paul Farmer.

My Personal Change Credo

Teamwork makes Dreamwork

 My personal change credo involves creating an environment of communication, building of team chemistry, accountability and dedication to the overall mission. I must first dedicate myself to the change and mission. Leading by example with my hard work and commitment is a key component to the foundation of facilitating the change. In order to create a change in culture, I have to sell the benefits of the change to the immediate staff (and stakeholders).  While selling, the focus is not on meaningless words/duties/tasks to force buy in, rather, I must figure out how to stimulate the personal interests of individuals by getting to know them better. What are their plans for the future?  Is this (your) mission a part of their life’s plan? If not, how close are we? As the change agent you must understand how best everyone can contribute based on their strengths.

 This must be a sincere effort to understanding the emotional intelligence and personality (views, work ethic), while simultaneously trying to gain the respect and trust of the individual.

 Once the idea of change is understood (and the buy-in is present), I must utilize what I learned about the individual in the “selling” process to motivate them to fully invest in the change. You are not only selling a new product (frame of thinking, acting, producing), but you also are working to get them to invest in the product (owning the process, dedicating themselves to the mission, quest for positive outcomes).

 Working in higher education administration, one can expect your team to be often comprised of individuals who represent all points of the aforementioned spectrum. As a leader (and change agent) the duty is to recognize the similarities, differences, strengths and weaknesses of the team with a goal in mind to use their strengths to help you facilitate change and help them contribute to the change without reserve.

 Future initiatives must re-iterate the positive and forward movement of the change you have “sold” to them. Simultaneously you want to give them the assurance that they “invested” in the right plan (person).

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