Corrective Lenses

Tom Robertson: Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 10:04 AM

In a sense, an organization is a big project. Like any project it needs a balance of structure and flexibility; it needs a healthy respect for the unknown, an infrastructure that fits, and courageous openness. However, an organization is more than just a project – it is an enabling environment. Lots of words are written about how to make organizations work, but I want to start by asking “Why do organizations fail?”. We have lots of examples of that – financial meltdowns, shuttle disasters, broken healthcare systems, car recalls. 

In Reframing Organizations*, Lee Bolman and Terrance Deal pin the blame on a kind of leadership myopia. Leaders usually get to be leaders because they have seen and enabled what their organization needs.  Then what happens? Do these leaders suddenly become stupid or greedy? Bolman and Deal point to a more likely situation – narrow perspective meets real world. The organization faces challenges in new dimensions, and the leader’s perspective doesn’t adapt.  

Part of the antidote is to expect and be open to the unexpected, feedback, and the need to change as a leader. But adapting is hard if you’re seeing only part of the picture. Bolman and Deal offer four lenses or frames through which leaders can correct their myopia:

–Structural Frame – look at your organization as a factory or machine, and make sure rules, roles, and process are attuned to objectives, environment, and technology

–Human Resource Frame – look at your organization as a family, and make sure your team is aligned, empowered, and fulfilled

–Political Frame – look at your organization as an arena, and develop advocacy and power base, and an environment for productive handling of competition and conflict

–Symbolic frame – look at your organization as theater, and inspire faith, beauty, and meaning.


*Bolman, Lee G. and Deal, Terrance E.  Reframing Organizations – Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint, 2003.
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