Well, the election is over…thank goodness, and while the paper, this and other blogs, and all of the recreational pundits will read various messages into the results one thing is clear: the winners now have to govern. Now is the tough part.
I want to share with all those who were successful on Election Day, and all those who were maybe lucky enough not to be up this year, a lesson I learned from serving on the school board.
On a recent airplane trip I read about a study done by business consultant Michael Losada and psychologist Barbara Frederickson (see www.thesunmagazine.com May ‘09) where they articulated far better than I ever could exactly why some organizations often fail so spectacularly and why other organizations are often so successful. From my tenure on the school board, and as made so clear by the study, I can share lessons learned as to why the board is so often dysfunctional and unproductive. I strongly believe that the same lessons can be illustrative for all policy making groups (i.e., city council, BOCC, state legislature, etc).
At the school board, and as the study found as is so often the case in almost all low functioning organizations, the “positivity ratio” (ratio of positive to negative statements) is often less that one to one. The high performing organizations have a ratio of 6-to-1, meaning that for every one negative statement they had six positive ones. This is neither mere pop business psychology nor of small significance. People on high performing teams had an even balance between asking questions and advocating for their own points of view. They also spent an equal amount of time focusing outward (i.e., in public boards situations, toward the public) and inward within the group.
I can state, from often painful personal experience, many on the board (me, too often, included) exhibited a “self-absorbed advocacy” –little listening and mostly just waiting to talk. High achieving groups often will reach what physicists call a “complex chaotic attractor” or unpredictable and/or novel outcomes.
The school board, and often education in general, is often mired in “fixed point attractors” which all too often result in downward spirals and dead ends. I personally have experienced both types of organizations.
As a recent board member of the highly successful non-profit Climate Solutions, I saw, experienced and rose with the very high tide. I witnessed, and was fortunate to be part of how effective positive, creative, action oriented decision makers can be. With a positivity ratio of at least 6-to-1 the board, and the highly effective staff, the board tackled complex problems, maturely discussed difficult issues and were inquiry-based and solution-oriented. I fully understand the major differences between an unelected non-profit board and one which is elected by the public as fiduciary on its behalf. The lessons are nevertheless quite useful.
The tired old question “should government be run more like business?” has always missed the point(s). The answer is, as is so often the case, yes… and no. Of course it should – to the extent that it can learn from high functioning organizations and adopt those practices which will lead to an organization which will then be better able to meet its goals. And, of course it shouldn’t – blindly adopting business practices, simply because they are business practices is as simple minded as it is so often wrong. Government often has a fundamentally different motivation and serves the public interest first and foremost.
There were (are) those on the school board who often degenerate into position advocacy, at best and pure and simple obstinacy at worst. Believe me, I know. While I wish I was bigger than that I often saw myself resort to behavior which was neither positive nor results oriented and came down to the gutter when that was where the playing field was.
At the same time (literally) I was part of the Climate Solutions board which saw its budget double, achieve heretofore unthinkable results at the legislature and help countless businesses/industries truly become a “solution” to our climate change conundrums.
Hopefully those who made city council candidates’ substantive views/votes on the isthmus a make or break issue in determining who to vote for will remember that the council has many important issues to be decided during the term of the newly elected. Those for whom the WAY the council made their decision on the isthmus was the critical factor in determining how they cast their vote hopefully will stay vigilant during future decision making. Hopefully all council members will have heard clearly that loud shot across the bow delivered Election Day.
Time will certainly tell but we know that if the council doesn’t achieve a high positivity index and vigilantly keep its eye on the ball while driving to bring this community into the future in a sustainable, livable, and highly desirable manner this community yearns for then we have only ourselves to blame. They work for us and are responsible to us. And while they too often pander to us the responsibility is ultimately ours. My name is Russ Lehman