Posts Tagged 'Peter Block'

Starting off on the right foot

Most of us have been encouraged throughout our lives to stand up for ourselves, for others, and for the things we believe in.

But most of us have failed at one time or another to do so because of fear or other compelling reasons.

Consulting-expert Peter Block describes such people as “walking bent over,” adding, “If you walk bent over at the beginning of a consulting relationship, you will find it very difficult to stand up straight again.”

The importance of starting off on the right foot by standing up for what they believe and by defining the boundaries of relationships is a life lesson that resilient people have learned, often the hard way.

In addition to consultants beginning a relationship with clients, Block’s admonition applies, for example, to:

• Parents with their children,

• Teachers with their students, and

• Supervisors with those they supervise.

And so on.

Resilience requires standing up straight at the beginning. It also requires that when we find ourselves compromised we do whatever is necessary to stand up straight again. “Better late than never” is advice that applies here.

That usually means confronting problems head on without judgment and blame, having difficult conversations, and seeking win-win solutions.

So, while resilient people have learned the importance of establishing “ground rules” at the beginning of important relationships, they have also learned that it is never too late to start again.

What has your experience taught you about the challenges of starting off on the right foot and, if necessary, of starting again?

Why it’s essential to begin professional relationships with integrity

IMG_1365In 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.


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