I believe that we can choose the way we work. I also believe that there are a variety of ways of working that can be effective depending on the immediate need. The key to success is recognising what’s needed and when, and then flexing our approach to match the need. There are many kinds of people and approaches. One of the key differences I’ve noticed in working with clients is assessing whether to use an outsider or insider approach to support them.
So my question is this: are you an Elphaba or a Glinda?
If you’re unfamiliar with the world of musical theatre (I know some people are) let me give you a quick run down of the two main characters in the global phenomenon that is Wicked. Essentially it’s the prequel to The Wizard of Oz, focusing on how one witch became Glinda ‘the Good’ and how another, Elphaba, became the ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ (although not really wicked, more misunderstood). The stuff of fantasy drawn from the brilliant novel by Gregory Maguire, but with singing! At a pivotal moment in the story the two friends choose different paths – one the path of the outsider, fighting to change the system by dismantling it, the other the path of the insider using politics and influence.
The thing that struck me as interesting about this is that both paths are useful ways of working, offering a way that enables us to take on the persona needed for a specific situation. We just have to decide when it’s best to be Elphaba and when we need to channel Glinda?
Elphaba – The Outsider
Characteristics of note:
- Healthily cynical
- Disruptively Brave
Channelling Elphie is ideal in a number of situations and circumstances. Generally speaking taking the outsider position can be effective when you have an individual, group or business that’s stuck. When the way they are working/behaving is dysfunctional and they just can’t see the wood for the trees because they’re ‘in it’. They need a jolt. Something to disrupt their patterns of thinking and their habitual behaviours. Elphaba’s big showstopper is the song ‘Defying Gravity’ – pretty disruptive I’m sure you’d agree.
Elphaba can also be your best option when the answer is clear and simple. The way is clear, let’s just move to action. There can be tendency for consensus making and group agreement on every decision. Sometimes what’s needed is a clear decision and then making a move. And sometimes people just want to be told what to do. Not like submissive sheep, more like focused followers. There are times when we should be brave enough to provide a clear and certain action.
Glinda – The Insider
- Diverse outlook
- Relationship focused
Glinda’s big song in the show is Popular. While she is not necessarily the opposite of Elphie, she comes at problems from a different angle. This insider approach can be really useful when you have a tricky individual or individuals. I’ve found this approach to be effective when dealing with professional services (not that they’re tricky of course!) Given the amount of study required to be a member of a profession there can be a tendency for earned expertise in one area to spill out into an assumed/believed expertise in other areas. Here it is effective to recognise the profession and align yourself in the language and culture at play. Changes and development happens through building stronger relationships and trust that you are the serving the best interests of both the individual and the profession.
Another great use of the Glinda style is when you’re new to an organisation or relationship. Storming in with opinions and an ‘I know’ attitude is unlikely to earn you the permission to have those more directive conversations later. Mostly because the relationship won’t get beyond the first meeting! This style is perfect for that initial period where you’re proving your value to become a trusted adviser.
Of course there is plenty of room for a hybrid approach, the two styles are not mutually exclusive. What I’m suggesting is that we have options. Sometimes it’s right to try defying gravity whereas on other occasions it probably pays to just try and be more popular!