When people mention anything about working ‘for’ me, I quickly correct them saying they work ‘with’ me. This is not just some politically correct line in my book – it holds deeper meaning for me. People who know me, recognize that I hold strong opinions on different issues. I tend to speak my mind, and I’ve always been conscious about doing it respectfully and honestly, choosing my words carefully, and not making things personal.
Jim Collins, the renowned author of ‘Good to Great’ shares the importance of confronting the brutal facts – the Stockdale Paradox – retain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. This idea has resonated with what I believe in. Raising questions and naming reality is not something that comes easily to most of us. And when we think about doing it in person, within an organization, it seems like the perfect way to draw flak towards ourselves! No wonder, people often shy away from disagreeing in public, or at meetings. It is easier to do it in the hallways and parking lot where we remain somewhat anonymous. And since the people who need to know don’t have ESP, they may be blissfully unaware of something they really NEED to know. And why do they need to know? Because it is important to the organization.
I believe organizations that promote the healthy airing of different perspectives are the ones that grow. Differences in opinion are a lot like Indian food. The way I make a potato curry and the way my mother or friend make it will naturally differ because we use different permutations and combinations of spices. And whether mild or spicy, the ingredients add flavor to the food. Similarly in the workplace, perspectives add value to what we do. Some perspectives may be mild and others sure stir up the heat. The important piece is taking a taste – considering them, seeing what they tell us, and thinking about what reality we need to confront.
Collins also says, “Make the company itself the ultimate product – be a clock builder, not a time teller.” He is talking about building an organization that adapts regardless of who is at its helm because there is a focus on sticking to core values along with a willingness to challenge and change anything that is not a core value. He believes in making a distinction between “what we stand for” (which should never change) and “how we do things” (which should never stop changing). How can we challenge and change what we need to, if reflecting on the work we do, studying and redefining the processes and strategies we use, and analyzing our data and reviewing outcomes don’t become second nature – not only to people at the helm of organizations but to all who work in it?
There is a simple reason for why it is easy for me to share my perspective on issues and invite the perspectives of others. A couple of years ago I defined it this way: “I work for an organization, and with people.” When we are clear that our work is for an organization, then its betterment becomes something we believe in implicitly. Our work becomes more than just a job. We now have a collective responsibility to strengthen the organization. And how do we accomplish that? With people. Each person in the organization becomes important because he/she can be the compass and anchor guiding its stance on its core values, and fine-tuning its work. However careful we are about how we share our ideas and questions, if we are confronting the ‘brutal facts’ there may be discomfort. Strong relationships and trust can help us put that discomfort in perspective and move purposefully towards our goals.
It is heartening to see more teachers each year at my school stepping out and sharing their perspectives. A lot of what we do has come from their ideas, and the things I strive to improve as a principal come from their critique. Students write letters to me and ask for things important to them, and many parents walk in and share their ideas and suggestions. I hope to grow this over time. So far, it’s been a great learning experience!