Empower Yourself with the Truth: Step One = Determine the Current Reality


In May, I suggested that you explore your goals. You’ve now had several weeks to think about your goals. In this post, I want to return to Geoffrey M. Bellman’s book, Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge, and consider how we need to recognize and acknowledge current reality before we seek to change it.

As Bellman states, “If we are going to help change things, we have to know and appreciate our starting point.” He also says, “We don’t get where we want to be by fooling ourselves about where we are.”

How many people do you know who want to deny the current problems in their environment and think that their world as it is is perfect? How many others do you know who want to leap from what they know is wrong to their preferred perfect solution, without considering the challenges in moving from current state to ideal state?

Part 3 of Bellman’s book focuses on how to learn about our organization and ourselves – as it and we are today. I started writing with the intention of covering all of Part 3 in this one post. But as I re-read Bellman’s book, I decided the four chapters in Part 3 are so important that each one deserves its own post. So for the next four weeks, I’ll be writing on Empowering Yourself with the Truth, each post devoted to a chapter in Bellman’s book.

Bellman begins Part 3 of his book with Chapter 5, which discusses how to learn what the truth is in your organization. Bellman says that we have to examine the truth at four levels. Think about what you have done to know your organization at each of these four levels.

1. Knowing the facts

At the first level, we have to know the facts. Where does authority reside in your organization? What is the scope and power of your own role?

At this stage, we are researching like a disinterested observer. We watch, we ask questions, but our  purpose is like Sergeant Friday in the old Dragnet series – “just the facts, ma’am.”

We can learn a lot at this level, but we will learn more if we dig deeper.

2. Understanding how we got here

Beyond knowing the facts, we have to understand them. How did the organization evolve to its current structure? Why are things the way they are? What do the people involved think about the current state?

Developing understanding requires that we spend significant time with people who have been in the organization awhile. We don’t really have understanding until these folks think we understand them. This takes time, but is worth the effort.

Think of the power of getting the people in the organization to acknowledge that you understand them and the way things work. They will be much more willing to work with you in the future, if they think you understand them now.

3. Respecting the past and present

After we understand how we got to the current state, we have to respect it. Things are the way they are because mostly decent people made them that way. Recognize that there are reasons why the organization is structured the way it is.

You may not agree with the current state. You may see many problems in the organization. But if you don’t respect the people who came before you, who are the people invested in the way things are now, you will probably not have a lot of success changing the current state.

You need to meet people where they are – with respect – to change them. Bellman points out that this is a hard level for many of us to achieve. We may have such zeal for improvement that we can’t see the good in what has gone before us.  Work at trying to respect the current state.

4. Accepting the value of those who got us here

Beyond respecting the people who got us to the current state, to get to the fourth level, we have to accept their value. Acceptance goes deeper than respect; it requires honoring and recognizing the contributions of the people who went before us.

As Bellman puts it, if we get to this stage, we can say that we not also understand and respect the current state, “I also accept that the people in this department are smart, hardworking, interested in contributing, and valuable to the company.  You are the kind of people I love to work with.” How many new managers or other change agents can say this and mean it?

You don’t have to agree that the current state is where we should remain. But you do have to honor it.  This is even harder than respect, for  those of us with a passion for change.

* * * * *

Think about these four levels of getting at the truth in your own situation. Which levels do you feel comfortable with? Which give you some heartburn?

Challenge yourself. What will it take for you to truly respect where the people in your organization came from?  How will you accept their contributions – past, present and future?

Only after considering these questions will you know the current state well enough to start changing it.

Next week, we’ll look at how to work on empowering ourselves to make changes.

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