Peter Block, author of The Empowered Manager, noted that the apparent power of those at the top is much less than absolute. What leaders can do from the top down depends on the will of those below. Block recommended that leaders analyze their relationship with each of their essential people by asking two questions:

  1. How much do I trust them?
  2. How much do I agree with them?

Block then offered this grid to help leaders think about how to build support for change initiatives:

Block

For each relationship, leaders have to employ different strategies. As the Michigan Department of Education Office of School Improvement helpfully summarized:

  • Allies (high agreement / high trust). Affirm both the relationship and your agreement about the school. Discuss shared doubts and vulnerabilities and ask for advice and support.
  • Opponents (high trust / low agreement). Affirm the relationship, and state your own position on the school issue. Check out your perception of THEIR differing position. See if you can find a way to problem-solve together.
  • Bedfellows (high agreement / low trust). Affirm the agreement on the school issue. Acknowledge that reasons for caution exist, then try to be as clear as possible about what you'd want from your bedfellow in terms of working together. Ask what she wants from you. See if you can reach agreement.
  • Fence-Sitters (low trust / unknown agreement). State your position on the school issue and ask where the fence-sitter stands. Press gently for an answer if he delays. Ask the fence-sitter to let you know what it would take for him to support your position and work with you.
  • Adversaries (low agreement / low trust). State your position on the school issue. Check out your understanding of their position. Own up to your own contribution to the disagreement. Let the adversary know your plans and end the meeting with no demand.

As I think about Block's categories, several thoughts come to mind related to enacting a school change initiative:

  • Allies both trust you and agree with you. Check in with them to ensure that they're on board but spend the bulk of your time focusing on other groups.
  • Opponents trust you, they just don't agree with you at this moment. This is a group that likely can be persuaded.
  • Bedfellows agree with you but either you don't trust them or they don't trust you. If the latter, there are some strategies you can employ to address that. If the former, you know they're on board but it's an uneasy relationship. Either way, they're in agreement so you probably don't need to spend much time on them. Just watch your back.
  • You can probably move some, but not all, of the fence-sitters into the bedfellows category by following some of the strategies listed. Even so, it's going to be an uneasy relationship.
  • Maybe you can move some of your adversaries to a different place in the grid. Probably not. The best you can do is employ some of the strategies listed above and hope for the best. Good luck.

The reason I like Block's grid so much is that it really emphasizes the political relationships that exist within organizations. As I discussed earlier this week, paying attention to the political aspects of change initiatives is often vital for their success.

Who are your allies, opponents, adversaries, and bedfellows? Can you share an example of how this framework applies to a recent change initiative in your school organization?