Why is framing an important tool for leaders to use?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The article "The Language of Leadership" published in Business Finance and written by Carol Orsag Madigan (1999) framing is basically building (or recreating) a concept while materializing it through words.

Framing, in the business field, is no different than what lawyers do in courtrooms: it is the act of presenting a situation from a very particular perspective in aims of persuading those who are listening to agree with the leader's concept of the situation and abide by the leader's proposal.

What makes framing an important tool for leaders is that it is mainly through framing that a leader can get employees to "buy into" a new idea.

For example:

A school principal notices that overall literacy grades are decreasing school-wide; after conducting further research and triangulating the data, the results find that teachers are spending more time teaching other skills and are being lax with reading comprehension tasks. Since there is a teacher's labor union that staunchly protects the working conditions of teachers, a school supervisor cannot just tell them "do this or start doing that". Instead, taking into consideration the possible obstacles that may present themselves out of the MLA (Master Labor Agreement), a brilliant leader will use framing as a way to suggest new practices to start taking place.

Using the proper language that completely deflects from the "self" and, instead, places the interests of the students as a focal point, the leader prepares the stage by showing the data, by explaining the effects of the scores in student progress, and then by inviting the teachers into considering new strategies.

A great leader would use strategies such as being advocate of conflict to allow the teachers to vent out whether they feel that this is fair or unfair. However, as the advocate of conflict paradox suggests, chances are that the situation will turn around and teachers will actually feel motivated to buy into making changes to their approaches. This is because the leader is using every positive aspect of framing, from talking, to listening, to tolerating the conflict.

What the article by Madigan suggests is that the language is the key to it all. Moreover, the author quotes Fainhurst (1996) from the book The Art of Framing and cites

..leaders... influence how events are seen and understood. To frame a subject is to choose one particular meaning, or set of meanings, over another.

Again, when we think about lawyers trying to defend clients that have admitted to having committed a crime, the question that arises is "how do you convince a jury to go easy on a confessed criminal". However, with language that is persuasive, firm, and often wildly charismatic, a lawyer will re-create the day of the crime and see it from the client's point of view, showing all the vulnerabilities and factors that may have possibly rendered the client...a victim!

Madigan further quotes Fainhurst with the words

In framing, when we create a bias toward one interpretation of our subject, we exclude other aspects, including those that may produce opposite or alternative interpretations.

Therefore, the ability to get facts, show data, and propose a new plan for employees to follow is a skill that denotes great leadership ability and an overall understanding of the population of the workplace. It is a gifted skill that almost guarantees transformation because it involves everybody and because it defines the strength of the leader.

Sources:

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