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Guest Thinkers

Agreement and trust

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?
  • How much do I agree with them?
  • Block then offered this grid to help leaders think about how to build support

    for change initiatives:

    For each relationship, leaders have to employ different strategies. As the Michigan

    Department of Education Office of School Improvement helpfully



    • 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


  • 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


  • 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?


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