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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

April 27, 2015

Word from the Associate Director - Extension and Applied Research

Submitted by Daryl Buchholz

A few years back, I ran this message, and it is still one that resonates with me... maybe because I haven't dealt with all my situations that I need to?!? Anyway, I think it is a timeless message that requires planned action, so here it is again!

"When bad becomes normal." I recall from the lecture given at K-State by Dr. Temple Grandin in November 2010, she was speaking on her experiences as an animal behaviorist and a person with autism. Her message to me related to true leadership when she demonstrated animal behavior to the experts (farmers, ranchers, cowboys, and all those in the cattle business) and how changing facility design could better serve the animal and still achieve the outcome desired of those handling the animals. However, her work was not understood and scoffed at first. She was challenging "normal." At one point in her speech, I heard her say we must never accept "when bad becomes normal."

I think we can all identify situations where bad has become normal for someone else. It can be extremely difficult to see normal as bad in our own experiences. A couple examples that might resonate with you.... maybe it's your office that needs cleaning because you lose track of important info, maybe it's avoiding people different from you, or maybe it's having a turnout of 5 once again at an educational meeting that could have had 50 or more in attendance. You'll be inclined to accept the status quo just because that's normal, the way it has always been. Oftentimes it takes someone from outside the situation to draw attention to accepting "bad" as the way it is. Once recognized, it is then up to you to discover ways to change the norm and make better. That challenge is more than pointing out the problem. It's also working to develop solutions. We call that leadership, which leads me to a couple quotes that I think speak to the challenge.

“Leadership” is a concept we often resist. It seems immodest, even self-aggrandizing, to think of ourselves as leaders. But if it is true that we are made for community, then leadership is everyone’s vocation, and it can be an evasion to insist that it is not. When we live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone follows and everyone leads. - Parker Palmer

“Successful leaders manage conflict; they don’t shy away from it or suppress it but see it as an engine of creativity and innovation. Some of the most creative ideas come out of people in conflict remaining in conversation with one another rather than flying into their own corners or staking out entrenched positions. The challenge for leaders is to develop structures and processes in which such conflicts can be orchestrated productively.” - Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky

Identify areas that need improvement, listen to others, seek solutions, and expect resistance to implementing those solutions. When the principles you are working from provide the foundation for change, you will have to be strong in your commitment to leading change, and know that it is worth improving upon what others might call "normal."

Have a great week! --Daryl Buchholz