Administrators derive status from their organization and tend to identify themselves with it so that criticism of the organization is felt by them to be criticism of the administrator himself. Productive people owe whatever distinction they may have to their own competence and are usually more open-minded about improving their performance.” – H. G. Rickover, then Vice Admiral, USN writing in American Education – A National Failure, 1963
When you’re driving change you’ll want to know whether you’re working with administrators or what Admiral Rickover called “productive people.” Granted, there are shades of each on the line between the two, but to be successful you must learn to tell one from the other.
Here’s a quick way to tell the difference, at least from my experience. An administrator will never use the word “new” as applied to information you have presented; they probably won’t talk much at all. Whether amazed by your findings or not, if they admit you knew something they didn’t then they have failed because your information would imply their organization is not today all that it could be, and if the organization isn’t all that it could be then they are not all that they can be, and their self-talk spiral goes up and up. The way to rewind the spiral is to talk about your change as opportunity to leverage the best of their organization and make it even better. Even in the worse organizations there is a best part so you’re never lying, even when their best is everyone else’s average or worse.
A productive person however will use these words when in conversation with you, and will probably use them often: interesting, curious, challenging (in a positive way), new and different (again in a positive way). Your problem with a productive person is that their curiosity for your information may cause you to run past your conclusions, getting you a few steps beyond the change you’ve thought out. To keep your credibility when working with a productive person, always admit when you don’t know something and always share how far out you’ve taken your idea (e.g., we know what’ll happen in the next three months, but haven’t planned for “what ifs” past that). Always be on the look out for productive people. They are an advantage on your good days and a treasured asset on your bad.
In the end you’ll be driving change with everyone, so talk up those administrators, care for those productive people and drive the change either way.