THREE KINDS OF CHALLENGES, PART I. . .

Greenleaf writes: The trustees’ concern is complicated by the condition that life within the institution is not wholly rational (no more than anywhere else).  …it presents three kinds of challenges which can bring virtual paralysis to the administration if there is none of the effective intervention which trustees are best positioned to make.

First, there is the operational necessity to be both dogmatic and open to change.  …Most institutions that survive over a period of time do so because they have a survival pattern, a dogma that gives a general direction of rightness.  Those who administer and staff the institution become highly competent in operating within that pattern.  Yet unless they are periodically challenged on the adequacy of that pattern, eventually they lose survival ability.  Long before that happens, they probably cease to function at their best. 

Occasionally an inside administrator will detect, in time, the need for a new pattern and effect a change in course.  This, however, is a chance happening; the structure does not favor it.  …the risk of change looms as a greater threat than the risk of failure, even though the old pattern is clearly destined for failure…

 The trustee has a better chance than the administrator to be open to change.  In fact, this is her or his role – to maintain openness to change.

If an organization is going to thrive over time it might well embrace two challenges.  One challenge is to maintain that which ‘works.’  The other challenge is to ‘experiment.’  The best time to begin to experiment is just prior to the organization reaching its peak.  Organizations tend to experiment when they are in crisis – this experimentation is reactive rather than responsive.  One popular mantra that is repeated over and over at peak times when ‘experimentation’ is presented is the ‘If it isn’t broken don’t fix it!’ mantra.  Many times the ‘old guard’ wants to maintain and the ‘new guard’ wants to experiment.

The challenge is to embrace both with equal time, energy and resources.  Leadership is then required to respond to the conflicts, the confusion, and the chaos that emerges when both challenges are being embraced.  This is the art of leadership.

We live in a culture of ‘we can fix it’ and so organizations are often seduced into going into crisis for they believe (a deep tacit assumption they hold) that they will be able to react to the crisis and fix it.  However, most of the crises are not ‘problems to be fixed’ they are more often than not ‘paradoxes,’ or ‘polarities,’ or ‘dilemmas’ – ‘fixing them’ won’t work for they are not problems.

Few organizational structures support both ‘stability’ and ‘experimentation.’  Young organizations promote ‘experimentation’ and if they survive and thrive then as they ‘age’ they move toward emphasizing ‘stability.’  All living systems (and an organization is a living system) decline after they mature.  It is in their nature for living systems to mature and then to decline.  As in any relationship, it is more health-full and help-full for the relationship to ‘begin to evolve’ before it ‘matures and begins to decline’ (if not evovle, at minimum it must ‘renew’ itself – a commitment to continuous renewal, it seems, is the best response but sadly too many ‘relationships’ are not so committed).  In embracing experimentation organizations are embracing ‘renewal’ – and thus they might not have to end up in crisis.  They might well be rooted in ‘response to’ rather than in ‘reaction to.’

If you so choose the challenges can make you stronger. –Ralph Marston

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