Bolman & Deal frameworks

Most educational administration graduate students can tell you about Bolman

& Deal's leadership frameworks


. The frames help change agents

conceptualize different approaches to an issue. Depending on the circumstances,

one approach may be more appropriate than another. Or, most likely, several

approaches in combination will be most successful. Bolman & Deal's four

frames are as follows:

  1. Structural. Leaders who make change using this

approach focus on structural elements within the organization as well as

strategy, implementation, and adaptation. Changing institutional structures

works well when goals are clear, when cause-and-effect relationships are well

understood, and when there is little conflict, uncertainty, or ambiguity.

  • Human resource. Leaders who approach change from a
  • human resource frame focus on people. This approach emphasizes support,

    empowerment (perhaps through distributed leadership mechanisms), staff

    development, and responsiveness to employee needs. A focus on people works well

    when employee morale is a consideration and when there is relatively little

    conflict.

  • Political. Leaders who use a political approach to
  • facilitate change focus on the political realities that exist within and outside

    organizations. This approach emphasizes dealing with interest groups (and their

    varying agendas), building power bases, coalition-building, negotiating

    conflicts over limited resources, and creating compromises. The political

    approach is appropriate when resources are scarce or diminishing as well as when

    goals or values are in conflict.

  • Symbolic. Leaders who make change using a symbolic
  • approach focus on vision and inspiration. Symbolic leaders feel that people

    need to believe that their personal work, and the work of the organization, is important and

    meaningful. Traditions, ceremonies, and rituals are very important to the

    symbolic approach, which is most appropriate when goals and/or cause-and-effect

    relationships are unclear.

    [see more

    on Bolman & Deal's four frames

    ]

    Bolman & Deal's frames can be used at the planning stage of a change

    initiative to help diagnose organizational needs, to identify institutional

    challenges and contexts, and to devise appopriate actions (e.g., 'For this initiative, we need to be sure to address the political aspects because...').

    The frames also can be used to rethink and reframe unsuccessful change

    initiatives (e.g., 'This initiative failed because we didn't appropriately

    address the human resource frame.

    ').

    A combination of the four perspectives is nearly always warranted when

    implementing a change initiative. Unfortunately, I think most educators would

    agree that the structural aspects of change initiatives tend to be emphasized quite

    strongly (e.g., 'We'll create a new program' or 'we'll reorganize ourselves' or

    'we'll buy some technology to help') with a concurrent neglect of the other

    three frames. Because school leaders often may be strong in one or two of

    these frames but not all four, it is important to get others on board to

    adequately conceptualize and address all needed aspects of the change initiative.

    I'm sure most of you can identify a situation where an emphasis, or lack of emphasis, on one of these frames led to a change initiative's success or failure.

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    Image from the study.

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    Image by authors of the study.

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