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The Tempered Radical

Many years ago I discussed with my manager how difficult it was to navigate the intricacies of client/consultant relationships. Many times I’ve found myself dealing with power dynamics, stubborn clients, and organizations that simply resist the change they say they want to make. Working as a consultant, I have to work with corporations whose values are not always aligned to mine.

I’m invested in change as I want to do something that matters, and many companies invest more time and energy on the politics than their actual purpose. My manager shared with me the concept of the Tempered Radical, which is basically, a change agent that engages in a small battle, working in a quiet way, so they are not picked up by the “do it by the book” radars. Tempered radicals are cautious and committed catalysts that keep going and quietly bring a larger group that supports small changes until they actually make a difference. (Meyerson, 2004)

Some recommendations for the future tempered radicals out there:

  • Be clear on your values. Assess them regularly
  • Develop strong relationships with people in your organization, but also within your field. You will need them for reality checks
  • Have a clear understanding of where people stand. Connect with other innovators and rebels
  • Know yourself. Increase your social and emotional intelligence. This will be key to manage interpersonal relationships with people whose values are not aligned to yours
  • Learn the lay of the land in your organization. Understand other players’ motivations and values
  • Learn to frame what you are doing in terms of the organizational values. As Meyerson would say: learn to frame your agenda in language that has legitimacy among those in power
  • Be always clear and aligned on your purpose
  • Don’t lose faith. You may lose a battle but not everything is lost

If you want to know more about the Tempered Radicals, check out Debra E. Meyerson (Professor of Education and Organizational Behavior at Stanford University).