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Speed Review: Tempered Radicals

Speed Review: Tempered Radicals

Speed Review: Tempered Radicals

How People Use Difference to Inspire Change at Work

by Debra Meyerson

Tempered radicals are quiet but determined revolutionaries who successfully change their conformist or old-fashioned organizations from within. Meyerson explains how tempered radicals remain valued members of their organizations without selling out their own individual values.


Quiet Revolutionaries Change Cultures from Within
Are you trying to make a difference at work, but feel stifled by conformity in the workplace and old-fashioned ways of doing business? Many other professionals have felt the same way, and have done something about it, writes author Debra E. Meyerson in Tempered Radicals. Not to be confused with the brash upstarts who storm around with axes to grind until they leave an organization out of protest, tempered radicals are the people who want to become valued and successful members of their organizations without "selling out" the personal values that make them who they are.

Keeping Your Career
Meyerson, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, explores how "everyday leaders" find innovative ways to promote positive change within the structures of their organizations without rocking the boat so hard they fall off. Her book presents numerous stories about how ordinary people at various levels within their fields have been successful while promoting their own values and ideas for change. Her examples of quiet leaders who are capable of changing attitudes and policies while prospering within professional careers make her book a compelling and inspirational read.

Challenging Others to Change
What can be done to effect change in my organization? To answer this question, Meyerson researched three global corporations, each very different but with very similar goals, and pinpointed eight people who best represented the issues she wanted to explore. These people provide the structure on which she explores how they implement change based on strong values and identities while staying true to the parts of themselves that are at odds with the majority.

The first part of her book introduces the tempered radicals whom she follows throughout the book, exploring their motivations, tensions and coping strategies. Their struggles highlight her own theories of change, the "self," and how the two converge.

The second part of her book takes the reader into the deeper realms of their strategies for change and protest, and the last part focuses on the struggles faced by tempered radicals while they challenge others, and the conditions they confront within their organizations. She concludes her book with a chapter that summarizes the implications of the actions taken by tempered radicals within their organizations and shows how these acts represent an important, and often overlooked, style of leadership.

Compelling Characters
Meyerson's book (using pseudonyms) introduces the reader to a number of compelling characters who have implemented change in their organizations in quiet, sometimes mundane, but determined ways. They include:

  • Martha Wiley, who as a senior vice president in the real estate division of a large, international company, has been able to improve conditions for employees in her department by accommodating working parents and making her department more hospitable to women by quietly implementing flexible hours and work arrangements.
  • Sheila Johnson, who as an African American vice president in the private equity division of an international corporation has worked to create a more diverse pool of job candidates by posting entry-level jobs throughout minority communities while keeping a low profile.
  • John Ziwak, who as manager of business development at a hi-tech global corporation has challenged his bosses' expectations by choosing family obligations over company demands and establishing his personal values within a culture that often calls for employees to shirk parental responsibilities.

Fighting for Personal Values
Why do these people act as tempered radicals? Meyerson writes that, "They don't like the alternatives." They believe that sacrificing their values for conformity is "unacceptably demoralizing and draining," and simply not an option. Instead, in an effort not to "sell out," they choose not to turn their backs on their communities, and act with patient conviction. "When these individuals push back on conventional expectations, challenge assumptions about what is 'normal,' and revise work practices to meet unaddressed needs, they push others to learn and force systems to adapt to impending challenges," Meyerson writes. By staying within professional settings and utilizing small acts that have far-reaching effects, they are able to make a difference for others while maintaining their careers and professional status.

Tempered Radicals provides an endless supply of food for thought for those who see a disparity between their personal values and the values of the organizations for which they work. By providing different examples of people who were able to turn their convictions into catalysts for change within their professional settings and help others by doing so, Meyerson delivers hope to readers who are looking for the motivation to transform their visions of positive innovation into private strategies for inspired leadership and improved workplaces.