Tempered Radicals will appeal to all those who feel uncomfortable at work. Professor Meyerson draws on over 200 interviews in 3 companies and with many change agents to provide role models for how to shift the world of work to more closely match your own values, preferences, and background. The examples include people of different social identity groups, lifestyle preferences, values, and beliefs from the majority in their work units or companies.
A tempered radical is someone who responds to an inappropriate circumstance at work in a measured and thoughtful way, that leads to improving the situation for themselves and everyone else. They want change, but do not pursue a radical way of achieving that change.
You and your spouse have busy careers. Your spouse is away overnight, and the kids are home with the baby sitter. Your boss asks you to fly to New York to negotiate a last-minute deal. What do you do? In this case, the husband politely declines to go, and asks his boss to give him more warning in the future.
In a hard-driving technology company, people gently point out that 5:30 staff meetings mean missing dinner with the kids and gradually the meetings shift to earlier in the day.
A gay man hears another executive complaining about how gay people are always showing off their sexuality. The gay man points out that he doesn’t have pictures of his partner in his office, but the man who is complaining has pictures with his wife and children. Now, who’s advertising his sexuality?
Your company makes it hard to recycle. You arrange for appropriate containers to be placed at every desk, and people use them. The cleaning staff empties them at night.
Your company says it wants to hire African-Americans, but only recruits at top-level colleges where your company is not competitive. You quietly put up notices in churches with African-American worshippers to let people know that they should apply at your company.
You want to do a social audit of your company’s performance, but no one else knows what that is. You use your training program experiences to educate others and come up with a unanimous recommendation of your group’s task force that such an audit be held. The CEO agrees to let you go ahead.
By reacting to misperceptions, oversights, and intolerance, individuals can help others to improve their perspective on what needs to be done. The environment improves, and at the right time greater gains can follow. That’s the main message of this book. It is all about leading from wherever you are in the organization, rather than a book for CEOs (although they will learn a lot about how to create and nurture a diverse workplace).
In all the environments that Professor Meyerson investigated over 15 years, she found the following process at work:
(1) People resist quietly in ways that let them stay true to themselves.
(2) Personal threats are turned into opportunities to teach and improve the situation.
(3) Focus shifts to broadening the impact of the needed change through getting support and negotiating for change.
(4) Small wins are leveraged into bigger ones through skillful improvisation.
(5) Organizing with others to take collective action that leads to bigger changes.
In each case, the person has grown beyond thinking of their career as the only game in town. They are trying to establish a wholeness with work, personal life, and self. In many ways the book reminds me of the better books on communications skills. You have to know what you want, tell people what you want, and focus on ways of getting changes made that work best.
So, the role model here is someone like Lech Walesa rather than the radical firebrand who causes confrontation and loses. Although the road is a difficult one, many people will find it psychologically and emotionally rewarding. People “do make a difference” in ways other than being lone heroes.
The book’s appendices have extensive methodological details that made the work much more understandable.
I was very impressed with this book. It’s the kind of subtle, careful work that you don’t expect to find coming from a business school professor, or Harvard Business School Press. Professor Meyerson describes herself as a tempered radical also, who felt apart from the system even while she worked on her doctorate. I look forward to reading her next book.
What should be changed at your workplace? How can you help others to understand the need to change? How can your intervention help build small wins that will establish the validity of the principles you favor? How can you then build broader support?
Be the role model you would like to have at work!