Bad rebel doing good

BoomIs there a place for the “bad” rebel -- the person who storms into an organization and bulldozes his or her change agenda? Usually, no.  But there are exceptions. Like the superintendent of an urban city school system.

Rather than slowly roll out his change initiatives by building relationships and developing coalitions of support, this educator introduced a dizzying number of reforms and new practices in a very short time in what some would say was an autocratic way.

Rather than be humble and patient, introducing change in small bites, he pushed forward big, bold ideas that set off bureaucratic fireworks among school administrators, teachers, parents, unions and the public.

That he was perceived as an “outsider” didn’t help, either. “He doesn’t know how things work in our part of the country,” many of his opponents told me.

“Why are you alienating so many people with your ideas,” I asked him.

“Superintendents of large urban school systems have a tenure of about three years  -- at most,” he said. “If I want to have any impact on improving education in this city I need to get as many important initiatives going as possible in the hope that something will stick before I’m asked to leave.’

Sure enough, 18 months later there was a shift in politics and he was no longer superintendent.

Have some of his ideas stuck?  Yes.  As much as he would have liked? No.

If we want to create change and keep our jobs, building support and sequencing our change programs is essential.  If your position is precarious and the cause important, you may need to move fast and bold, trying to get as much “good” adopted, knowing that many will try to block your efforts and discredit your intentions.