Anybody who tells you they know everything they need to know about leadership is mistaken. Leader learning never stops. Even as I am called upon by our clients to coach and advise leaders as the managing principal of ChangeSmith, I too continue to learn, and that might be my favorite part of my work.
I have been a management consultant in the professional services industry for over 22 years. I have supported leaders in the Federal, commercial, and trade association spaces, and represented some of the best firms in the Washington, DC metro area. While my work has always been an effective way to support my family, I haven’t always loved it. In fact, about five years ago, I was ready to quit and walk away when my wife encouraged me to pursue a dream of running my own firm.
During my time with #TeamArlington, I have been responsible for a wide range of players, but the group I’ve coached most frequently has been the U11 Girls. While coaching them from the sidelines, I made the following observation: There are two kinds of youth sports coaches; those who provide all the conditions that child athletes need to develop their passion for the game, and those who prioritize WINNING the games. All of the business leaders I've observed over the years were trying to win the game, whether it was their own ambitions or the metrics and models put in place by more senior leaders. Individuals who prioritized results over people consistently shared two important characteristics: their results were rarely sustainable, and they always lost good people, which are two signs of failing organizational health.
Organizational Health can be described as the conditions and infrastructure enabled by leaders to allow for the very best possible experience of stakeholders in pursuing or advancing the shared purpose of the organization. According to Patrick Lencioni, among the authors of the term and concept, an organization has integrity – that is, IT IS HEALTHY – when it is whole, consistent, and complete. Management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together AND make sense. Too many modern leaders are willing to skimp on the culture piece, and in doing so, they dismiss the value of the people experience, and often the people themselves.
Most organizations are focused on being SMART, enabling strategy, marketing, finance, and technology. These are important, but are only half of the equation. HEALTH on the other hand is reflected by minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees. Healthy organizations have PURPOSE. The very best organizations tend to leverage smart in order to be more healthy, as opposed to prioritize smart at the expense of health.
Providing for Organizational Health in an organization is about being the former of those two types of coaches. Our organizational health guidance is focused on behaviors as opposed to results so that our clients can sustain and improve upon their positive outcomes. As a leader at ChangeSmith, I too find myself pursuing good health. We like to tell our clients, “we align your operations to your aspirations,” and I offer these three recommendations for empowering their aspirations:
- Not black and white: Being healthy cannot happen if health is pursued at the expense of being smart. Absolutes are rarely the right approach. Healthy leaders recognize that while being smart is non-negotiable, the appropriate approach demands balance.
- Need to practice: Being healthy is reflected in the commitments to always seeking improvements and always being ready for change. If leaders and organizations only demonstrate these behaviors in the crucial moments, the culture will never refine, mature, and correct enough to be at a competitive advantage when those crucial moments happen.
- Put people first: Being healthy is about always considering the stakeholder experience. As humans, we're attracted to positive experiences. Healthy leaders put in the effort and build infrastructure – especially around HR – to ensure that people are having remarkable experiences. This is where leaders build a following - of both employees and customers - and that is what makes a business successful. If it is intentional and authentic, the right experiences will ensure the right people are ready and willing at the right times.
On the field with the U11 Girls, anybody can crack a whip to achieve a result, but healthy leaders enable the behaviors from their teams that both improve and make outcomes sustainable, and leave stakeholders wanting more. This is the secret to how healthy leaders become the real winners.