Thursday, December 29, 2011

Red Deck, Blue Deck

My father attended a lot of principal's conventions during his 35 years working for the school district. He learned a lot of great lessons, some of which he shared with me. This is one.

The gentleman running the seminar asked for a volunteer to help him out. A woman was chosen, and the speaker told her: "I'm the principal. You're my secretary. We're a team. As part of this team, it's important that you trust me and support me." He held up several playing cards, fanned out so that the blue backs showed clearly.

"These cards are red," he told her. "Now, will you please tell everyone what color the cards are?"

Confused, she looked at the blue cards and said to the audience, "Um, the cards are blue."

The speaker shook his head and fanned the blue cards back out in his hand. "It's very important that a secretary and principal have mutual trust and support. These cards are red. Will you please tell everyone what color the cards are?"

Hesitantly, looking at the very blue backs of the cards, she once again told the audience, "The cards are blue."

Smiling a little, the speaker shook his head again. "As your principal, it is important that you trust me and support me on this. These cards are red. Will you please tell everyone, what color are these cards?"

Obviously humoring him, the woman parroted, "The cards are red."

At that, the speaker turned the fanned cards around so that the woman, and the audience, could see that the cards were double-backed, and that the sides facing the speaker, which the woman was unable to see, were, in fact, red.

The point of this demonstration was to show that a principal, when making a decision, often has information that his secretary (and/or staff) doesn't. She needs to know and understand that, and rather than question or second-guess or undermine his decisions, he needs her to trust and support him.

My father went over this story with both of his secretaries, as well as the rest of his staff, and for the remainder of the time he worked in the school system, whenever he made a decision that looked a little strange on the outside, if his secretary started to second-guess him, he would just say "It's red deck, blue deck," and she would know that he had information he wasn't sharing with her, that made his decision reasonable.

Very often when we make decisions, we have information that others don't. For a variety of reasons--time and others' privacy being examples--we can't always share all of the information we have in explaining our decisions to others.

For example: Perhaps the principal announces that there will be inside recess on a day when the flawless weather makes this seem an odd decision. The kids are restless, the teachers are confused, everyone thinks the choice is unreasonable. The piece of information that none of them has is that the principal received a call that animal control has been called to handle a potentially rabid dog that has been seen on the playground. Sharing this information has no benefit and in fact would be wildly disruptive. So, he keeps it to himself and just announces the indoor recess. Animal control comes, takes the dog away, none of the children were put at risk, and life goes on.

This lesson works not just within the school systems, but in any boss/worker relationship, as well as parent/child, or any of a myriad of other relationship dynamics.

I know that as a parent, I don't always share with my children all of my reasons for a choice I make. I know that it is frustrating for them when they don't agree with something I decide and they think that it is arbitrary or unreasonable. What I need to be able to tell them, what they need to understand, is that I usually have a lot of information that they don't have, and that even if they don't think so, my decision makes sense.

Red deck, blue deck. mk

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