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Analysis of Bolman and Deals Reframing Organizations (4th Edition)

By: Ruben De Pena

Course: LDRS800 Date: September 14, 2013

Brief Synopsis
In Reframing Organizations the authors present a very compelling narrative in the way
organizations should conduct business to minimize failure. They propose four distinct frames or
perspectives as a way for businesses to increase their odds to succeed.
These four lenses have been suggested by careful consideration, analysis, and ultimate
compilation of several schools of thoughts in the social sciences that have been prevalent for the
past fifty years.
They clearly define a Structural Frame as one that stipulates that organizations should be lead
judiciously, and put a special emphasis on goals, and technical aspects within the organization.
An emphasis on individual roles within organizational charts are typical in this approach. As a
metaphor, this view is compared to a factory or machine.
When the authors talk about the Human Resource Frame, they want to highlight intrinsic aspects
of individuals such as: needs, feelings, skills, prejudices, empowerment, a sense of camaraderie,
etc. Metaphorically speaking, this view is compared to a family.
The phrase playing the political game becomes axiomatic within the Political Frame as
organizations are views as arenas where competition for scarce resources and power is prevalent.
Negotiations, advocacy, coalitions are important elements. A jungle is an adequate metaphor to
highlight these struggles.
Lastly, they masterfully detail the Symbolic Frame, which emphasizes culture, stories, traditions,
rituals, and other symbols. A theater is a good metaphorical descriptor. Leaders and
administrators, as actors, need to play their roles effectively otherwise the mystic cannot be
sustained for long.
Authors thesis:
The authors propose that managers and leaders need to adopt a multiform thinking approach that
would enable them to adapt to a constant, fast, unpredictable, and complex organizational
environment. What does that mean? In order for organizations to have a better chance for
success, they need to reformulate the way they conduct business as usual. To accomplish this,
leaders need to learn how to break organizational frames or models that are ineffective. They
need to reframe their thinking. They need to understand their limitations. By having the
determination to apply all four concepts of structural, human resource, political, and symbolic
perspectives, managers and leaders can gain a deeper understanding of their organizations and be
able to make transformational changes toward victory. When they deliberately integrate the
roles, needs, power, and symbols of an organization they shape behavior, they become
transformational leaders. Based on all the evidence presented, I believe the thesis follows

logically from the basis and have interesting implications, which I will address toward the end of
this analysis.
Their thesis is backed by years of scholarly evidence and practice. The authors scope and depth
of their work produced compelling scientific and empirical evidence that organizations are
incredibly complex, surprising, deceptive, and ambiguous; and, as such, present enormous
managerial challenges for administrators and leaders. Many organizations fail because their
leaders are either reluctant or dont have the skills to be creative enough to bring about success.
In other words, their lack of imaginationis a major cause of the shortfall between the reach
and the grasp of so many organizations-the empty chasm between noble aspirations and
disappointing results (Bolman and Deal, 2008, p. 19). Taking a one-sided position as a way to
conduct business is a recipe for disaster. Simply put, a tunnel- vision leadership or
management style would only lead to failure. Therefore, there must be other ways to produce
transformational results in organizations. So, upon this foundation the authors ultimately
construct their thesis.
Leaders and administrators need to take a closer look at their management and leadership styles.
Experience, talent and wonderful personality traits are crucial, but not enough. Successful
organizational leadership is rooted in a multi-dimensional approach cleverly expressed by the
authors in their proposed four-frame perspectives. While technique and analysis are important,
they are meaningless if they are not applied with a sense of urgency and artistry. Additionally,
leaders need to take into account the soul and non-negotiable values of whatever organizations
they manage or lead in order to increase the chance to succeed. Overconfidence can also be very
risky, particularly when morale is low and credibility is lost. A savvy leader needs to make sure
every frame is in shape so that the organization can stand firm when black swans (as another
source in the book metaphorically call unforeseen circumstances) unexpectedly appear to destroy
it (2008, pp. 20, 50). Leaders who neglect understanding and applying all four perspectives, can
run the risk of being caught off guard in certain situations, which can lead to failure or partial
successes at best.
In this regard, I would like to use an example of a very recent moment in U.S. politics. By no
means do I want to make a political statement, but after reading the other day the transcript of the
speech by President Obama on Syria, I found it particularly interesting how, in my view, he
stresses all four frames of leadership as he tries to make his case to the American people.
Obviously, the speech is political in nature; yet, I believe the president uses all four perspectives
analyzed in the book.
I believe he uses the structural frame by clearly defining his role amidst the crisis when he says:
Thats my judgment as Commander-in-Chief. But Im also the President of the worlds oldest
constitutional democracy. (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 2013)

It seems to me he uses the human resource frame as he sees the nation as a family that needs to
be united in the issue at hand: ..And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when
we stand together. (2013)
The president continues selling his project by telling Americans he is hopeful for a diplomatic
exit by ensuring key players are involved. This coalition building approach is important within
the political framework: Im sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian
counterpart, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. Ive spoken to the
leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together
in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council.
Lastly, I believe he uses a strong symbol of American politics on this part of his speech:
Franklin Roosevelt once said, Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and
foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles
that we have cherished are challenged.
He continues by inserting even another powerful symbol that resonates well with Americans: the
nations unique identity as a bastion for democracy in the world:
Thats what makes America different. Thats what makes us exceptional. (2013)

As with the implications for students of leadership, all I have to say is they have an opportunity
to continue building upon Bolman and Deals great contribution on the topic of organizational
leadership. They need to expand their knowledge. One day, they may become the new
Bolmans or the new Deals by contributing with fresh theories that would enable future
generation of leaders and managers address the challenges and seize the opportunities of the
Positive aspects:
This journey has been a wonderful experience for me. I have great respect for these authors as
they took their time to analyze the different schools of thought in management and leadership
and used other contemporary sources to present their thesis. I appreciate their candor when they
state we are not searching for the one best way. Rather, we consolidate major schools of
organizational thought into a comprehensive framework (2008, p. 14).
I also found the metaphors they used for the four frames very intriguing. Several examples of
leadership styles and their results on the part of iconic organizations like Enron, Home Depot,
and Southwest, were very stimulating.
Negative aspects:
I cannot say basically anything negative about this wonderful work. Yet, within the Human
Resource frame, I would have loved to see more information on promoting diversity in the
workplace. It was briefly touched in the context of businesses risking customer alienation or
potential litigation if minority employees are discriminated against.

It would have been great to see comparative financial statistics of at least one organization that
actively promotes diversity vs. another that does not.
Bolman, L.G., & Deal, T.E. (2008). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership
(4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. (2013, September 10). Remarks by the
President in Address to the Nation on Syria
Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/09/10/remarks-presidentaddress-nation-syria