Reflections from The Northwest School, Leading Through Change

My deepest thanks to The Northwest School in Seattle. This was one of the most authentic and progressive bodies of faculty I’ve met. In my line of work, I consider it an immense gift to share in transformation, and I can say I’ve learned and grown as much in my work with you as facilitator as I hope you’ve learned about each other. 

Growing Pains

One of the greatest moments of clarity in a change process comes when we are able to make sense of the complexity we have unconsciously grown into our work. This frustration lives in our clear memory of what it was like when there were fewer rules, when we were designing as we went along. The impressions we have of bureaucracy are symptoms of growing pains and maturity, an outgrowth of our affinity to “the good old days.”

There was one question asked frequently in the session, albeit in different ways: "How do we preserve what we love about our place, about the work we do, without becoming an obstacle to change?” Remember this mantra: Don’t try to answer that. Leave that question open.

Our sessions together at The Northwest School demonstrated for me a team absolutely dedicated to both asking difficult questions of themselves as they brave the sea of change, and solving the biggest problems ahead together. To those in attendance this week, I offer you a few reminders which I hope you will carry forward in your work this year.

  1. Assume good will, be of good humor. Nine times out of ten, when we respond to difficult news, we’re responding to style over content. If you assume good intentions of the messenger, you’ll be more nimble as you respond to the message.
  2. Practice the language of the 4 Rooms. The 4-Room Model for Change can help you adapt and respond to disruption more effectively, but using this language is a muscle that must be developed. Use the language of contentment, denial, confusion, and renewal when coming together to discuss issues and opportunities.
  3. Be aware of the subtle difference between airing a problem without commensurate focus on a solution. When we support others, it goes a long way to make sure people not only feel heard, but that the are heard. Feeling heard is a head nod from the listener. Being heard means you’re reflecting back to the speaker their message as you heard it. Just as we did in our time together, look for what lies behind what you’re hearing, reduce misunderstanding, and increase engagement in the real challenges you’re facing.
Howard Teibel

The Other Learning

I’m going to be honest. This marks the first time in my professional career that I have literally been undressed by a set of faculty. 

Thankfully, the audience offered gentle guidance, disabusing me of my west coast assumptions around “business casual” and providing just the right accoutrements so that I fit in perfectly! Why do I tell this story? Because we all need to remember how important it is to be flexible. And I want that vest back! 

As we strive to become change leaders, remember that it’s possible to frame every crisis as an opportunity, and doing so directly informs your ability to respond to it. That’s part of the value of the New Normal, and our work to internalize this language will help us to build a more agile team. 

I had a wonderful time with The Northwest School community. It’s clear to me that this team is poised to continue breathing life into the place this academic year and beyond. Thank you for a trip I’ll not soon forget!

— Howard