Change, Challenges, and a Green Chair

by Guest Author - Karen C. Welborn

Successful leadership in an academic community requires systemic evaluation, thoughtful dialogue, careful planning and measurable goal setting, only to repeat the process over and over again. In other words, change must be a mainstay in the fabric of effective leadership. Right and proper change emanates when a school’s leadership, through deliberate strategic planning, identifies the specific threads of fabric that “fit” the underlying, core mission of the school and how that fabric may need adjusting from time to time. In so doing, vibrant change is embraced in a way that brings growth and strength and healthy decision-making in the ongoing life of an academic community.

However, such vibrant change is often met with significant challenges that require layers of communication, patience and sometimes even calculated risk. Anticipating the challenges and genuinely addressing them are crucial in implementing effective, organic and appropriate change.

Consider a personal anecdote that lends itself as an analogy. Some 26 years ago, my husband and I were given a small sum of money as a wedding gift from a favorite uncle. The gift was coupled with the directive to use the money to purchase something we would use for many years. Accordingly, we bought a fairly non- descript, yet functional chair and ottoman. Over the course of the next 25 years, that chair and ottoman not only made several moves with us, it became a place with deeply endearing emotional attachment. For in that spot, our three children were fed bottles, read to as toddlers, learned to read in the elementary-age years, cuddled in their Daddy’s lap, consoled by me when boo-boos needed kissing or broken hearts needed mending. This place of endearment had become known through the years as “the green chair”, for the simple reason that its fabric, though recovered several times, had always been green.

Imagine the response I received when, one night at the dinner table, I announced that the “green chair” would soon be reupholstered . . . and then the bombshell . . . that it would no longer be “green”. It was time for a change, and the new fabric would not be green. My message was met with an outpouring of overwhelming disapproval! Ranging from shock to . . . well . . . teenage rebellion. My carefully reasoned explanations had no merit. But why such unfavorable backlash? It’s still the same piece of furniture. Its core value and use would not change . . . only its fabric. The framework, integrity and functionality remained soundly intact.

Don’t we often find ourselves experiencing the same sort of responses in the implementation of sound strategic planning initiatives in our academic environment? Against all logic, it is perhaps more of an “expected” than we’d like to admit. Failure to anticipate the innate struggle to accept change can bring serious difficulties.

You should know that the no-longer “green chair” never lost its real standing or its place of prominence. And, in time, its freshness has not only been embraced, but relished.