We see all around us a call for more conscious, purposeful leadership, to find a higher purpose, to be more creative and innovative and to create organizations that are caring, engaging and flourishing. In my 40 plus years of leading organizations, sitting on boards and consulting to a wide range of organizations, I have yet to find a leader who doesn’t desire the same for their organization.
I have yet to find leaders who don’t realize that their success is tied to the success and well-being of their employees. There isn’t a leader that doesn’t dream of an organization of people who are passionate and committed to the mission, who can collaborate and collectively create the desired outcomes.
One has to step back and ask, “if the literature tells us we get better results by creating such organizations and leaders want to create such organizations, why aren’t more organization already operating this way?”
All leaders must create results. Whether you own your own company, report to an owner, a board or any other level of the organization, results are the bottom line!
For over a century, we have been operating under the principle that the best way to achieve results is to view organizations as machines that will create great outcomes if designed and optimized for efficiency. This worked for most of the 20th century.
Yet today’s environment is not like the 20th century. Our workers are better educated. We are operating in a global marketplace. Technology has changed the landscape tremendously and continues to do so. Perhaps the most significant difference is the rapid changes we find ourselves in. We are in a world that is more volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex (VUCA).
The number one focus of any leader is to create results and the most effective way of creating results, we have been taught, is to run our organizations like well-oiled machines.
Therein lies the problem.
It is not the lack of desire to create these flourishing organizations, it is the models we have for creating results that limits creativity, blocks innovation and diminishes engagement. The way we think and the language and tools we use are all about making the production machine ever more efficient. While important, efficiency has a shadow side. It seeks to minimize the messy aspects of human nature, the very source of creativity, innovation and engagement.
Machines are programmed to perform certain functions. They take a long time to reprogram for changes. Machines simply do what they are told, they do not innovate or respond to their environments. Machines are made of component parts and “parts” do not have passion for their work nor do they interact with other parts, which turns into silos.
The Living Organization®
The solution is to reframe, rethink and reorient our view of organizations as creative, living beings. They are in fact living organizations not machines of production.
Living beings are creative, highly responsive and adoptive to their environments, feel passion for what they believe in and will work tirelessly to achieve their goals. Living entities work in collaboration with other members of their ecosystem, knowing their success depends on the success of the whole ecosystem.
Shifting to this new view does not give up any of the benefits of the efficient machine paradigm. Rather it adds to and enhances it. The Living Organization® Approach incorporates the best of what we have learned about how to optimize our activities and integrates it with enhanced relationships and focused context.
It is a model that understands that the hard side of business and the soft side of business are not separate activities but an integrated path. Successful leaders know the "soft side" is a core driver of “hard side” and each are interdependent on the other.
Understanding the dynamic integration of all the forces within an organization is essential to effortlessly creating human wellbeing, flourishing organizations and extraordinary results. Just what every leader is required to do.
A living example
I have been the chairman of the Board of a number of nonprofits and learned a valuable lesson from all of them. It is best described by a meeting I was having one with the leadership, staff and volunteers of one of those nonprofits.
It was an evening meeting as most of the volunteers worked during the day. The purpose of the meeting was to simply review the progress of the organization, discuss what was working and what wasn’t as feedback to a schedule strategic planning meeting.
As I watched the interactions of the volunteers I observed a very interesting phenomenon. These volunteers had just spent a full day working at the “day job” and came in fairly exhausted. You can tell many of them felt stressed and challenged and certainly not very energized.
As they engaged in the nonprofit conversation, I saw these very same people come alive. The energy in the room was electric as they shared story upon story of their interactions with the organization and its clients.
Wow, from heavy, tired, stressed to excited, energized and passionate. What happened? Where did that energy come from?
This led to an understanding of the energy of context that brings about meaning, purpose and passion.
All day long these people worked at their jobs to produce something, and it drained them. Being a part of a machine of a machine sucks the energy out of them.
Yet when they engage with and are committed to the purpose of an organization, they become part of this living energetic being and are energized with it.
I began to ask, what if our day jobs felt more like the organizations we volunteer for? What kind of environments would that create? Engagement, commitment, passion, wellbeing – energy! That is what happens when you reframe your view of what your organization is and see it as The Living Organization.