Crises are an acid test of leadership. In the heat of the moment, leaders sometimes hesitate until events pass them by. Other times they jump too quickly, making bad decisions. Either way, they look weak, foolish, or out of touch. A deft response to crisis bolsters a leader’s credibility. When Superstorm Sandy roared out of the Atlantic Ocean a week before the U.S. presidential election in 2012, it posed a major test for elected of!cials up and down the East Coast but even more for the two men locked in a close contest for the presidency, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Romney struggled to !nd his footing, hampered by the ambiguity of the challenger’s role and by comments he had made months earlier suggesting he favored defunding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the arm of the U.S. government responsible for coming to the rescue in major natural disasters.
Obama could have stumbled, as his predecessor, President George W. Bush, had during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Just before Sandy hit, Obama was campaigning in Florida. He almost got stuck there, which would have painted a picture of a misguided president who cared more about getting elected than helping storm victims. Instead, he got back to Washington to do what presidents are supposed to do in such an emergency—convey an image of being concerned and in charge. Leveraging the advantages of incumbency, he
Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, Sixth Edition. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. ! 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by Jossey-Bass. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, Sixth Edition. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. ! 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by Jossey-Bass.
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ordered relief to the affected areas, coordinated with governors and mayors and travelled to scenes of destruction to offer comfort and reassurance. He garnered rave reviews from two prominent Republicans, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie. Christie’s praise was particularly potent—he had given a !ery speech in support of Romney at the Republican convention and had recently described Obama as a “ailing president who couldn’t !nd the light switch.
Obama could always give a good speech—otherwise he would never have attained the presidency in 2008. But many critics and supporters alike saw him as bloodless, remote, and passive, de!cient in the strength and passion needed to cope with the leadership challenges of the presidency. But in the face of Superstorm Sandy, his sure-footed response captured elements of every frame. He cut through red tape and bureaucracy to speed help to victims. He worked the phones to develop personal relationships with key leaders like Bloomberg and Christie. He visited affected areas, hugged victims, and promised swift and effective help. He recognized both the political and symbolic bene!ts of getting off the campaign trail for several days to focus on the biggest natural disaster to hit the United States since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Just before Sandy hit, the election polls showed the race as a virtual tie. A few days later, Obama began to pull away and he easily won reelection.
Harmonizing the frames and crafting inventive responses to new circumstances are essential to both management and leadership. This chapter considers questions about using the frames in combination. How do you decide how to frame an event? How do you integrate multiple lenses in responding to the same situation? We begin by revisiting the turbulent world of managers. We then explore what happens when people diverge in viewing the same challenge. We offer questions and guidelines to stimulate thinking about aligning perspectives with speci!c situations. Finally, we examine literature on effective managers and organizations to see which modes of thought dominate current theory.
LIFE AS MANAGERS KNOW IT Traditional mythology depicts managers as rational people who plan, organize, coordinate, and control the activities of subordinates. Periodicals, books, and business schools some- times paint a pristine image of modern managers: unruf”ed and well organized, with clean desks, power suits, and sophisticated information systems. Such “super managers” develop and implement farsighted strategies, producing predictable and robust results. It is a reassuring picture of clarity and order. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.
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An entirely different picture appears if you watch managers at work (Carlson, 1951; Florén and Tell, 2013; Kahneman, 2011; Klein, 1999; Kotter, 1982; Luthans, 1988; Mintzberg, 1973; Tengblad, 2013). It’s a hectic life, shifting rapidly from one situation to another. Much of it involves dealing with people and emotions. Decisions emerge from a “uid, swirling vortex of conversations, meetings, and memos. Information systems ensure an overload of detail about what happened yesterday or last month. Yet they fail to answer a far more important question: What next?
McCloskey (1998) maintains that only two important European novels have depicted managers in a positive light. One is Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, published in 1902. The other is David Lodge’sNiceWork (1988), whose central !gure is VictorWilcox, the manager of a struggling British factory. The novel opens with Wilcox struggling through a sleepless night that provides an all-too-realistic glimpse of managerial life:
Worries streak towards him like an enemy spaceship in [a video game]. He “inches, dodges, zaps them with instant solutions, but the assault is endless: the Avco account, the Rawlinson account, the price of pig-iron, the value of the pound, the competition from Foundrax, the incompetence of his Marketing Director, the persistent breakdowns of the core blowers, the vandalizing of the toilets in the fettling shop, the pressure from his divisional boss, the last month’s account, the quarterly forecast, the annual review (Lodge, 1988, p. 3).
The work of managers, Tengblad (2013) concludes, is more akin to juggling hot potatoes than engaging in analytic contemplation. In deciding what to do next, managers operate largely on the basis of intuition, drawing on !rsthand observations, hunches, and judgment derived from experience. Too swamped to spend much time thinking, analyzing, or reading, they get most of their information in meetings, on the Internet, on the “y, or over the phone. They are hassled priests, modern muddlers, and corporate wheeler-dealers.
Howdoes one reconcile the actualwork ofmanagerswith the heroic imagery? “Whenever I report this frenetic pattern to groups of executives,” says Harold Leavitt, “regardless of hierarchical level or nationality, they always respond with a mix of discom!ture and recognition. Reluctantly, and somewhat sheepishly, they will admit that the description !ts, but they don’t like to be told about it. If they were really goodmanagers, they seem to feel, theywould be in control, their desks would be clean, and their shopswould run as smoothly as a Mercedes engine” (1996, p. 294). Led to believe that they should be rational and on top of things,managersmay instead becomebewildered anddemoralized.They are supposed to plan and organize, yet they !nd themselves muddling and playing catch-up. They want to solve
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problems andmakedecisions. Butwhenproblems are ill de!ned andoptionsmurky, control is mostly an illusion and rationality an elusive dream.
ACROSS FRAMES: ORGANIZATIONS AS MULTIPLE REALITIES Life in organizations is packed with activities and happenings that can be interpreted in a number of ways. Exhibit 15.1 examines familiar processes through four lenses. As the chart shows, any event can be framed in different ways and serve multiple purposes. Planning, for example, produces speci!c objectives. But it also creates arenas for airing con”ict and becomes a sacred occasion to renegotiate symbolic meanings.
Exhibit 15.1. Four Interpretations of Organizational Processes.
Process Structural Frame
Human Resource Frame
Process to set objectives and coordinate resources
Activities to promote participation, build support
Arenas to air con!icts and realign power
Ritual to signal responsibility, produce symbols, negotiate meanings
Rational sequence to produce correct decision
Open process to produce commitment
Opportunity to gain or exercise power