Leading with Limited Authority

Posted by John Arroyo, Jun 02, 2007 0 comments

"You can't solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it"

~ Albert Einstein

During Jerry Yositomi's (Meaning Matters, LLC) Leading with Limited Authority session on Friday afternoon, over 60 people reflected upon a time when we independently made an intentional change in ourselves or a project. In our positions, how do we maneuver leading those with authority that supersedes are own?

When people don't know what to do, those charged to make changes in leadership are often resistant to innovation. We question our competency (is designing such a program financially feasible or are we educated enough about the decision at hand to make an informed decision?), capacity (is it realistic for us to challenge our leadership or is it even worth it?), values (both personal and professional/organizational), and confidence (although we want or need something to change, do we have the assurance that we'll be willing to take responsibility for the outcome, whatever the case?).

Three case studies were presented by previous and current existing leaders including Amanda Ault (National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture), Eric Thomas (National Black Arts Festival), and Leslie Ito (Visual Communications). Amanda discussed her plan to "engineer" her current role at NAMAC. Eric shared his experience in working to change his organization's traditional corporate sponsorship strategy. Leslie talked about her experience in managing in her board and strategy for identifying a new board leadership during a recent board chair transition.

Jerry offered that although traditional models may be easy to follow, they are not always effective in prospering our organizations. This is clearly evident in the need for many nonprofits (across the sector, not only in the arts) to reevaluate their mission statements. What was standard 25 years ago is no longer competitive in today's changing "arts as a business" landscape. Just because it worked then, doesn't mean it can work or will work now. That hard realization has invited leaders at all levels (not just senior level, but also emerging leaders and mid-career level leaders) to assess the accuracy of why they do, what they do, and for whom. In the process, it's also allowed them to challenge other "norms." A friend of mine (also in the arts) recently recognized this in her organization. In confronting a challenge, she questioned why the organization operates on a "this is how we've always done it" mentality rather than "this is a new concept, but there's a great value in trying a new idea."

Jerry highlighted the following five levels of behavior in response to change:

0. Reacting

1. Restructuring

2. Redesigning

3. Reframing

4. Regenerating

In considering these various behavioral levels, he also provided recommendation on how to prepare for this type "catalytic change":

- Create new outcome measures to evaluate programs

- Identify the problem (ideally with other sources or a third party, within or external of the organization)

- Draw attention to issues without drawing too much attention to yourself (don't make it too personal, make it reflect on the benefits for the organization)

- Identify solutions or others solving similar problems (great place for case studies or best practices!)

- Identify resources for experiments (grants, professional development workshops, partnerships and collaborations, technical assistance?)

- Understand boss's dilemma and the pains of chain - choose tactics accordingly. Don't blame or attack. Be open to assessing the situation from their point of view.

- Use time wisely (most executive level leaders have a short attention spam OR not enough time for long stories or details).

- Make interventions simple, intelligent, and relevant (just the facts).

In order to put these recommendations into action, think about a superior/colleague. What are their goals or values? How might you frame your messages to gain their resources to implement some of your ideas?

For more information on some of the basic leadership principles highlighted during the session, please refer to the following resources:

Leading Up: How to Leader Your Boss so You Both Win - Michael Useem

Leadership without Easy Answers - Ronald Heifetz

Is Knowledge in the Right Places? - Jerry Yoshitomi

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