Leapers, Bridge Builders & Tradition Holders


By Marita Fridjhon

Years ago Faith and I came up with this activity that really is helpful for clients who are in the trenches of change management. Is there anybody that is not currently managing change of some kind?

Last week we had the unique opportunity to work back-to-back with two organizations who, as organizational entities, respectively occupy the lands of Leapers and Tradition Holders. While we very often work with the roles of Leapers, Bridge builders and Tradition holders in teams, I have never had such a vivid experience of organizational entities occupying these roles.

The name of these different roles is fairly self-evident; leapers are the individuals on a team who are out front and center with the latest thoughts, ideas and innovations. They have a high tolerance for risk. Metaphorically, they carry the newest version of smart phones and probably are in the line at the Apple store when the new iPad goes on sale. We all know the individuals who one way or the other, are able to purchase before anybody else! 

Bridge Builders, while up for innovation, are more cautious and do a lot of research and comparison before they lock onto the product they want to purchase. They want to be educated or convinced, and are comfortable with mild to moderate risk.

Tradition Holders are more risk averse, can be highly competent in well-proven technology and strategies and occupy the role of protecting tradition. All three of these roles are needed in any change initiative for the obvious strength and insight that each brings. Conflict during change initiatives are frequently seen as individuals clashing while in fact, it is these three roles that are competing for final outcomes. Understanding this and facilitating the strengths of each into the mix while mitigating the challenges brought by each, creates a win-win-win situation.

Understanding which one of these areas entire organizations camp out it is very enlightening. Clearly startups live in the land of innovate or die; both in product as well as organizational structure. As the organization matures and grows, it masters the challenge to build the bridge between innovation and stability of structures and products that are recognizable and trustworthy. Finally the organization matures into tradition holding and guarding of that which lead to its success. Given this, we can more clearly see why organizations, regardless of where they are on this continuum, must have all three of these roles within their employment. The organization that becomes so structured and static that it resists all change, will stagnate and die. The organization that only innovates and discards, cannot get traction in our competitive business world.

Now back to our two client organizations. The first engagement was with the “Tradition Holding” entity. We had the unusual honor of working with an institution that is 600+ years old, and witnessed first-hand the labor-intensive work of the small band of change agents that are currently holding the role of Leapers for the organization. And, honoring an organization that clearly over a period of 600 years, had enough wisdom to keep Leapers around, to value Bridge Builders and to never give up on Tradition Holding!

After that we moved on to working with probably one of the most “leaping” organizations in business today. If you ever want to truly experience this thing that we call “emotional field” try walking into a Leaper organization and then a Tradition Holding one… The difference is evident everywhere; in the buildings, in the furniture, in the way in which the offices are occupied, in the tone of voice of employees, in the age of the visitors, in the activities employees are engaged in and more.

​Is one “healthier” than the other? Oddly, no. They are facing different challenges. In terms of Gottman psychology, both organizations have their 69% of perpetual problems – just different! Our challenge as coaches and consultants is to understand this difference however and to meet them there. Your moment of truth as coach is in the understanding in which of these you feel most comfortable. What is your bias? Can you hold all three? On my end, and in conversations with our team, it became clear that this last week will go down in our memories as one of the most rewarding and fun work weeks we have had in a long time! And I learned that in some things I am pure Leaper–in others a consummate Bridge Builder–and yet other areas, a Tradition Holder of the highest order.

Note: This was originally posted on our blog, ​relationshipsystemsintelligence.com in January, 2013.
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