She deftly de!ates his posturing by asking whether he wants to go with her to talk to the vice president. Clearly, she is con”dent of her political support and knows that his bluster has little to back it up.
Note that in both political scenarios, Marshall draws on her power resources. In the “rst, she uses those resources to humiliate Howard, but in the second, her approach is subtler. She conserves her political capital and takes charge while leaving Howard with as much pride as possible, achieving something closer to a win-win than a win-lose outcome.
Symbolic Frame A Symbolic Scenario
The symbolic leader believes that the most important part of a leader’s job is inspiration—giving people something they can believe in. People become excited about and committed to a place with a unique identity, a special place where they feel that what they do is really important. Effective symbolic leaders are passionate about making the organization unique in its niche and
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communicating that passion to others. They use dramatic symbols to get people excited and to give them a deep sense of the organization’s mission. They are visible and energetic. They create slogans, tell stories, hold rallies, give awards, appear where they are least expected, and manage by wandering around.
Symbolic leaders are sensitive to an organization’s history and culture. They seek to use the best in an organization’s traditions and values as a base for building a culture with cohesiveness and meaning. They articulate a vision that communicates the organization’s unique capabilities and mission.
At”rst glance, CindyMarshall’s encounterwithBillHowardmight seemapoor candidate for the symbolic approach just outlined. An ineffective effort could produce embarrassing results, making the would-be symbolic leader look foolish:
Howard: Didn’t the secretary tell you that we’re in a meeting right now? If you’ll wait outside, I’ll be able to see you in about an hour.
Marshall: It’s great to see that you’re all hard at work. It’s proof that we all share a commitment to excellence in customer service. In fact, I’ve alreadymadeup buttons for all the staff. Here—I have one for each of you. They read, “The customer is always !rst.” They look great, and they communicate the spirit thatwe all want in the department. Go onwith yourmeeting. I can use the hour to talk to some of the staff about their visions for the department. [She walks out of the of!ce.]
Howard: [to remaining staff] Did you believe that? I told you they hired a real space cadet to replace me. Maybe you didn’t believe me, but you just saw it with your own eyes.
Marshall’s symbolic direction might be on the right track, but symbols work only when attuned to the context—both people and place. As a newcomer to the department culture, she needs to pay close attention to her audience. Meaningless symbols antagonize, and empty symbolic events back”re.
Conversely, a skillful symbolic leader understands that a situation of challenge and stress can serve as a powerful opportunity to articulate values and build a sense of mission. Marshall demonstrates how, in a well-formed symbolic approach to Howard’s gruffness:
Howard: Didn’t the secretary tell you that we’re in a meeting right now? If you’ll wait outside, I’ll be able to see you in about an hour.
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Marshall: [smiling] Maybe this is just the traditional initiation ritual in this department, Bill, but let me ask aquestion. If oneof our customers came through thedoor right now,would youaskher to wait outside for an hour?
Howard: If she just came barging in like you did, sure.
Marshall: Are you working on something that’s more important than responding to our customers?
Howard: They’re not your customers. You’ve only been here 5 minutes.
Marshall: True, but I’ve been with this company long enough to know the importance of putting customers !rst.
Howard: Look, youdon’t know the!rst thing about how this department functions. Before yougooff on some customer crusade, you ought to learn a little about how we do things.
Marshall: There’s a lot I can learn from all of you, and I’m eager to get started. For example, I’m very interested in your ideas on how we can make this a department where as soon as people walk in, they get the sense that this is a place where people care, are responsive, and genuinely want to be helpful. I’d like that to be true for anyone who comes in—a staff member, a customer, or just someone who got lost and came into the wrong of!ce. That’s not the message I got from my initiation just now, but I’m sure we can think of lots of ways to change that. How does that !t with your image of what the department should be like?
Notice how Marshall recasts the conversation. She recognizes newcomers usually experience an initial test or “hazing.” Instead of engaging in a personal confrontation with Howard, she focuses on the department’s core values. She brings her “customer “rst” commitment with her, but she avoids positioning that value as something imposed from outside. Instead, she grounds it in an experience everyone in the room has just shared: the way she was greeted when she entered. Like many successful symbolic leaders, she is attuned to the cues about values and culture that are expressed in everyday life. She communicates her philosophy, but she also asks questions to draw out Howard and her new staff members. If she can use the organization’s history to an advantage in rekindling a commitment to customer service, she passes her “rst test and is off to a good start.
BENEFITS AND RISKS OF REFRAMING The multiple replays of the Howard–Marshall incident illustrate both the power and the risks of reframing. The frames are powerful because of their ability to spur imagination and
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generate new insights and options. But each frame has limits as well as strengths, and each can be applied well or poorly.
Frames generate scripts, or scenarios, to guide action in high-stakes circumstances. By changing your script, you can change how you appear, what you do, and how your audience sees you. You can create the possibility of a makeover in everyday life. Few of us have the dramatic skill and versatility of a professional actor, but you can alter what you do by choosing an alternative script or scenario. You have been learning how to do this since birth. Both men and women, for example, typically employ different scenarios for same-sex and opposite-sex encounters. Students who are guarded and formal when talking to a professor become energized and intimate when talking to friends. Managers who are polite and deferential with the boss may be gruff and autocratic with subordinates and then come home at night to romp playfully with their kids. The tenderhearted neighbor becomes a ruthless competitor when his company’s market share is threatened. The tough-minded drill instructor bows to authority when facing a colonel. Consciously or not, we all read situations to “gure out the scene we’re in and the role we should “ll so that we can respond in character. But it’s important to ask ourselves whether the drama is the one we want and to recognize that we can choose which character to play and how to interpret or alter the script.
The essence of reframing is examining the same situation from multiple vantage points. The effective leader changes lenses when things don’t make sense or aren’t working. Reframing offers the promise of powerful new options, but it cannot guarantee that every new strategy will be successful. Each lens offers distinctive advantages, but each has its blind spots and shortcomings.
The structural frame risks ignoring everything outside the rational scope of tasks, procedures, policies, and organization charts. Structural thinking can overestimate the power of authority and underestimate the authority of power. Paradoxically, overreliance on structural assumptions and a narrow emphasis on rationality can lead to an irrational neglect of human, political, and cultural variables crucial to effective action.
Adherents of the human resource frame sometimes cling to a romanticized view of human nature in which everyone hungers for growth and collaboration. When they are too optimistic about integrating individual and organizational needs, they may neglect both structure and the stubborn realities of con!ict and scarcity.
The political frame captures dynamics that other frames miss, but it has its own limits. A “xation on politics easily becomes a cynical self-ful”lling prophecy, reinforcing con!ict and mistrust while sacri”cing opportunities for rational discourse, collaboration, and hope. Political action too often is interpreted as amoral, scheming, and oblivious to the common good.
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The symbolic frame offers powerful insight into fundamental issues of meaning and belief, as well as possibilities for bonding people into a cohesive group with a sharedmission. But its concepts are subtle and elusive; effectiveness depends on the artistry of the user. Symbols are sometimes mere !uff or camou!age, the tools of a scoundrel who seeks to manipulate the unsuspecting, or awkward gimmicks that embarrass more than energize people at work. But in the aura of an authentic leader, symbols can bring magic to the workplace.
REFRAMING FOR NEWCOMERS AND OUTSIDERS Marshall’s initial encounter with Howard exempli”es many of the challenges and tests that managers confront as they move forward in their careers. The different scenarios offer a glimmer of what they might run into, depending on how they size up a situation. Managers feel powerless and trapped when they rely on only one or two frames. This is particularly true for newcomers, as well as for women and outsiders who experience “the dogged frustration of people living daily in a system not made for them and with no plans soon to adjust for them or their differences” (Gallos and Ramsey, 1997, p. 216). These outsiders are less likely to get a second or third chance when they fail.
Though progressive organizations have made heroic strides in building fairer, more just opportunity structures (Bell, 2011; Esposito et al., 2002; Daniels et al., 2004; Levering and Moskowitz, 1993;Morrison, 1992), the path to success is still fraught with obstacles blocking particularly women and minorities. Judicious reframing can enable them to transform an imprisoning managerial trap into a promising leadership opportunity. And the more often individuals break through the glass ceiling or out of the corporate ghetto, the more quickly those barriers will fade. Career barriers can feel as foreboding and impenetrable as the Berlin Wall did—until it suddenly fell.
CONCLUSION Managers can use frames as scenarios, or scripts, to generate alternative approaches to challenging circumstances. In planning for a high-stakes meeting or a tense encounter, they can imagine and try out novel ways to play their roles. Until reframing becomes instinctive, it takes more than the few seconds that CindyMarshall had to generate an effective response in every frame. In practicing any new skill—playing tennis, !ying an airplane, or handling a tough leadership challenge—the process is often slow and painstaking at “rst. But as skill improves, it gets easier, faster, more !uid, and comes almost as second nature.
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17 c h a p t e r
A leader is a dealer in hope.
The pitched battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for the U.S. presidency in 2016 sent shockwaves around the world and was
unprecedented in many ways. Clinton was the !rst woman nominated to run for president by a major party, while Trump was the !rst major candidate who had no previous political or military experience. Few, if any, could remember an election where both candidates were so widely disliked, nor one where one of the candidates, Trump, spent so much time battling leaders of his own party. Historians will no doubt spend years trying to sort this out, but a look through the four frames reveals important lessons for leadership. Structure, people, politics, and symbols all contributed to the outcome.
Structure Two key structural issues were the process for nominating candidates and the Electoral College system for choosing the winner. In U.S. presidential elections, a party’s nominee emerges over several months from a state-by-state process of caucuses and primary elections that select delegates to each party’s national convention. The two major parties had different rules. On the Republican side, it was winner-take-all in many states, and a candidate could garner all of a state’s delegates with less than half the votes. Running in a
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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multicandidate !eld, Trump racked up a majority of all Republican delegates with less than 40 percent of the total votes. The race ended early but produced an unconventional candidate opposed by many grassroots Republicans and much of the party’s leadership. Meanwhile, the Democratic race dragged on longer because the party awarded delegates on a proportional basis. Over the primary season, Clinton got a majority of the votes but had trouble pulling away from her major opponent, Bernie Sanders. Even when she won a state, she often got only a slightly larger share of the delegates.
The Electoral College, a quaint eighteenth century compromise enshrined in the U.S. Constitution,1 gives each state a number of electors equivalent to its representation in Congress. Beginning in the 1990s, America became sharply divided between red (Republi- can) and blue (Democratic) states. In the 2016 election, most of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were sure to vote either red or blue, leaving only a few states that were real battlegrounds and three that were critical. Trump was almost sure to win if, but only if, he carried Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Human Needs Turning to the human resource frame, we can ask about the concerns and attitudes that were motivating American voters. It was a year of surprises as both sides of the political spectrum sawmajor shifts in the electorate toward greater anger and dissatisfaction with the status quo. Many voters wanted wholesale change because they believed Washington was broken. On the Democratic side, almost everyone expected that Clinton, who had narrowly lost the nomination to Barack Obama eight years earlier, had an easy path to the nomination. But Bernie Sanders, a relatively obscure senator from Vermont, mounted a ferocious challenge from the left on a platform of economic justice, universal health care, and free college tuition. Liberals and young voters “ocked to him. Caught off guard, Clinton struggled to adjust her positions to catch up with a leftward drift among Democratic primary voters. She ultimately prevailed but emerged weaker than expected amid concerns that many Sanders voters might never support her.
Meanwhile, the surprises were even greater on the Republican side. When Donald Trump !rst announced that he was running for the nomination, almost everyone saw it as a publicity stunt that would quickly “ame out. How could a brash real estate developer and television personality with no government experience and a crazy idea about building a wall along the U.S./Mexican border get anything more than a fringe vote? But Trump tapped into a huge reservoir of disenchantment among voters who felt that they were being left behind and that the America they knewwas being undermined by globalization, immigrants, bureaucrats, and condescending coastal elites. Trump gave voice to their feelings. His promise to deport
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immigrants, bring jobs back, and make America great again resonated powerfully, and he overwhelmed the large !eld of more traditional Republicans running against him.
The human resource frame also underscores the importance of the personal character- istics of the two candidates. Clinton and Trump had a few things in common. Long before the election, both were household names and both had very high unfavorable ratings. The two were also the oldest pair of candidates in U.S. history; Trump would be 70 on Election Day, and Clinton would be 69. But they had very different personas. Trump was hot where Clinton was cool, “amboyant where she was restrained, shoot-from-the-hip where she was disciplined, and outrageous where she was cautious. To almost every issue, Trump offered dramatic but vague promises, while Clinton delineated speci!c policies and plans. Voters who liked one rarely liked the other. Many disliked both and lamented that they were forced to choose the lesser of two evils.