In Flawless Consulting, Peter Block wrote, “…when we bend over in the beginning [of a consulting relationship], we are seen by the client as someone who works in a bent-over position. When we avoid issues in the beginning, we are seen as someone who avoids issues.”
In a 1992 JSD interview I did with Block, he added: “We teach clients by our own actions how to work with us. It’s more difficult to renegotiate a relationship than to start it standing up in the first place.”
Block was cautioning consultants not to compromise their standards and/or integrity in the early phases of a relationship because of the likely long-term negative consequences of doing so to both the relationship and to the quality of their work.
That advice has lost none of its validity over the past 20 years and continues to have value for educators in various roles and settings.
Walking bent over has implications for:
• Teachers as they begin the school year or semester with a new group of students. (Teachers have long been told that it’s easier to ease rules and routines than it is to tighten up.)
• Novice principals as they begin their first leadership assignments.
• Experienced principals as they begin in new schools.
• Instructional coaches as they begin their work with teachers.
• Internal and external consultants as they begin their work with teams, schools, or school systems.
There are many reasons for becoming bent over in new relationships:
• A reluctance to make demands early in a relationship before an emotional bank account has been established.
• Anxiety about possible conflict;
• A lack of confidence in one’s point of view and/or skills;
• The desire to be perceived as a good team player;
• The importance of going along to get along; and
• The belief that initial problems can be easily remedied later.
What’s required to stand up straight…
It is essential that teachers, administrators, coaches, and consultants begin long-term relationships with crystal clarity about the desired outcomes of the work, the responsibilities of all parties to the “contract,” and the aspects of the work that are non-negotiable if it is to be successful.
In addition, courage may be required to suspend the work if agreements are not kept and integrity is compromised.
Standing up is difficult once we begin a relationship bent over. Walking away from work once begun that doesn’t ultimately serve the “clients” (which, in schools, almost always ultimately means students) is never easy.
That’s why it is critically important to begin new relationships with clarity, authenticity, and integrity.
As is true with almost everything in schools, students will be the ultimate beneficiary of our upright posture.