Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on January 3rd, 2020 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Driving to work, I was surprised by this teaser for an upcoming story:  the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote.  Of course, if I had stopped to think about the fact that women only got the vote in 1920, I could easily have realized that this was the centennial year.  My reaction upon hearing of the pending story was, “just 100 years?”

I am repeatedly stunned when I think about how long women had to wait to be able to vote and that more than half this country’s lifetime was spent minus the contributions of women.  Despite the fact that I wasn’t anticipating this important anniversary doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve every ounce of celebration that should come its way. 

But failing to pay attention to anniversaries is a constant in my life.  As with so many of us, early on in my career I dutifully engaged in taking various diagnostic assessments that would tell me everything I (and others) “needed” to know (not) about me as a team member, leader, etc. 

Doing the Myers-Briggs personality inventory in college, I found it very restrictive and unhelpful.  But I could spout my alphabet with the best of them.  I endured two more protocol takings until I refused to do any more.  Fortunately, however, one of those I did was the Four Frames, and I have been a big proponent of it ever since.  While it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about myself, it did help me understand why I needed to get comfortable with, and confident in, all Four Frames, while also being ever sensitive to the frames where others are most comfortable.   

The Four Frames model is touted as a leadership tool, operating at a variety of levels.  Understanding it makes for a more effective leader.  It helps leaders understand the perspective where they are most comfortable, while working to gain comfort in the other frames, providing them with lenses for assessing group and organizational dynamics, determining why some people can’t get along with others, and more. 

The Four Frames are structural, human resources, political, and symbolic, and each operates with a different worldview, if you will.  For me, however, Four Frames has always been a means for facilitating effective communication, which, in turn, facilitates success.  By listening to others, I can ascertain their dominant worldview and, thus, make sure I speak to them from that same perspective.  Four Frames makes it clear that there is no “right” or “wrong” frame and that, in fact, like it or not, all of these world views are likely to be present anytime you bring more than two people together.  In other words, all Four Frames are going to be present in your workplace. 

The first time I completed the Four Frames, like so many, I had a clear preferred, or dominant, frame, and a clear close second.  These are simply how my brain has always worked.  The other two frames, I have always understood intellectually, but they have never been a natural part of my practice.   I have worked very hard to compensate for my deficits, but this morning reminded me how easy it is to forget and slip. 

I have always practiced the part of the symbolic frame that can be achieved with words—the shared stories, the framing of organizational culture, the verbal rituals.  It is the softer side of the symbolic frame where I regularly fail:  the celebrations, the events, the parties.  Sadly, for me, these are the things to which others most easily gravitate, the things that readily let others know that you have gotten it.  And it’s where I so often fail. 

Intellectually, I truly understand the importance of literal celebrations.  They create memories, affirm success, build strong bonds, call attention, award deserved kudos, and more.  Oh, the symbolism celebrations provide!  I am as guilty of doing what I chastise too many in the nonprofit sector of doing:  forgetting the importance of return on investment.  Not only can we, but we must take the time to celebrate, even if it seems, at the moment, that it is taking time away from  more pressing needs.  Perhaps 2020 will be the year we all can do great celebrations.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.