Thought Thursday- Seeing Systems Part 2: Navigating the Top Space
Here’s a quick story for you. It took my wife and I many years to have children. After a lot of challenges and lots of intervention, support and prayer, we were blessed with beautiful twins (a third one came effortlessly later). I remember distinctly the day we left the hospital with our precious little boy and girl in tow and as we buckled them into the child seats of our mini-van, I remember looking at my wife and saying, “OK, I guess they’re really ours now!” The feel of being totally responsible and accountable was almost overwhelming.
Barry Oshry describes ‘top space’ as the space in a system where you know you have overall responsibility for your part of the action. In an independent school, this could be the Head of School, a division director, a teacher in her classroom, or a student who is about to step on the stage and deliver a solo on opening night of the high school musical. Oshry goes on to explain that you really know you’re in the top space when you are the only one waking up at two or three in the morning to take care of your responsibilities. This reminds me of my wife and I. We were both ‘top space’, but she was at an even higher level, as she took the responsibility of nursing both children while I was able to get an occasional break.
Refer back to the analogy of the dog jumping into the lake from the previous blog post. What Oshry says is: no matter who you are when you occupy top space in a system, you get ‘wet’ with complexity and accountability. Your reflexive shake in response to that wetness is actually to suck up more responsibility. So, where does this leave you? It leaves you to feel burdened by it all. What is the alternative?
Oshry says the alternatives can only be considered by taking a firm stand. He describes a stand as a commitment that pivots you out of reflexive responses and allows you to consider other more productive alternatives. Let me digress with one more short story related to our twins to describe the power of the stand. Before we had our first two children, I was frequently traveling all over the country, and sometimes out of the country, to facilitate team development session and coach executives. But, when the twins came, I decided to make a commitment to be a father who comes home for dinner every night. In my family and in my wife’s family, having family dinners together was central to building healthy family relationships. Now, 18 years later, we are still having family dinners together with our three children.
What’s important here is: the stand I took to make a commitment changed everything. I had to reinvent my practice and discover a market here in the Delaware Valley to make a living. It brought me back to my passion, education and a more humble lifestyle that allowed all of us to feel connected in daily life. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Barry Oshry, after years of research and careful study of organizations, has determined that the Top Stand is: Be a Top who creates responsibility throughout your system! So, just when you are about to take on more responsibility, when you are about to say to yourself, “By the time I explain it, I can do it myself,” you must pause and instead say, “Who else could be doing this work and benefit from the opportunity?” Successful tops develop leadership capacity around them. They do it through:
- Sharing high quality information
- Involving others in big issues
- Asking for help
- Investing in training and development
- Creating enrolling visions
- Making other ‘tops’ on issues and becoming more of a coach
- Creating and using teams
Remember: your job is to create leadership around you.
Stay tuned next week for the tips on navigating the Middle Space!
To learn about the other spaces discussed, click the following links:
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