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Buzzword or Simple Truth? Organizational Health and Effective Leadership

Karen Seketa // October 23, 2013

group of bicyclists in a race

Have you heard the latest buzzwords floating around corporate boardrooms? The terms "organizational wellbeing" or "organizational health" have become prominent enough to attract the attention of the likes of Gallup and Patrick Lencioni, providing instant credibility to the concept.

Wary of the Bandwagon

I am a hater of jumping on the bandwagon of the trendy business mantras so I approached "organizational health" with skepticism. My first introduction to the term came from a report published on Gallup titled "The Economics of Wellbeing," which I highly recommend reading if you haven't encountered it previously.

So, in preparation for our annual Element Three strategic planning session, I re-read my favorite Patrick Lencioni book, "The Advantage" which guides you step by step through how to create and foster a "healthy" environment. Never fear, I am not going to spend the rest of this blog paraphrasing the book; you can read it yourself. The point I want to make is this:

Sometimes the answers to your most complicated questions are right in front of you.

The true value of having a "healthy organization" is communicated in the most simplistic of terms in this book. It is so simple that Lencioni himself admits it is a little ridiculous for him to even state the obvious and it is a little embarrassing for you to read. In fact, you will find yourself reacting with a slap on the forehead and "of course" coming out of your mouth.

"Organizational health" is not rocket science, people. It is not complicated to understand and it should not be difficult to incorporate into your annual business plan.

Genius in simplicity

The genius in achieving "organizational health" is the simplicity of it. Typically, this concept is disregarded and overlooked because it does not involve 100-page strategic plans, complex spreadsheets or consultants who come with a giant price tag. No pain, no gain, you say? I disagree.

While this process may not inflict physical pain, it is a true mental exercise that requires humility, focus, dedication, passion, and trust. This is where many executive boardrooms fail. These key factors do not exist or they are viewed as too much of a stretch to achieve. If you don't read anything else in the book, read the section about Building a Cohesive Leadership Team that focuses on building trust:

"The kind of trust that is necessary to build a great team is what I call vulnerability-based trust. This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent, honest, and naked with one another, where they say and genuinely mean things like 'I screwed up,' 'I need help,' 'your idea is better than mine' ... At the heart of vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and their fear, to sacrifice their egos for the collective good of the team."

Drawing a True Competitive Advantage

If you cannot achieve a leadership team that resembles this, don't even bother trying this approach in your business plan. You will never be able to do it. This is where healthy companies draw their true competitive advantage - through cohesive leadership teams who leave their egos at the door and trust each other implicitly. These companies will win the "smart vs. healthy" war every single time.

Being smart is only part of the competitive advantage equation yet this is where most executives spend all of their time. Being healthy means high productivity and morale, low turnover, and minimal politics and these are the companies that will win because they are able to effectively solve problems and develop successful solutions much faster than the competition. Lencioni says it best:

"Most organizations exploit only a fraction of the knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital that is available to them. But the healthy ones tap into almost all of it."

To clarify, this does not apply only to marketing agencies like Element Three. We will be employing this approach to our business and marketing plans but organizational health can be applied to any company regardless of its industry. So, go do some of your own research and you be the judge. Buzzwords or simple truth?

Karen Seketa Element Three

Karen Seketa has been matching people to positions for years, and she's the one who finds all the superstars that populate the Element Three family. She's been here almost since the beginning, and if you ask her, she'll tell you it was the best decision she ever made.