Health and healing are both derived from the Anglo-Saxon root word hal, meaning “whole” and “holy”. Being healthy is being in a state of wholeness, free from restrictions and limitations. This definition can not only be applied to people but also to organizations that can be considered living organisms.
Most of us have experienced what it is like to work in unhealthy organizations at least for a portion of our career. Organizations that may look quite attractive and flawless from the outside, but then when you get into them, you notice aspects of toxic politics, moral issues, unhealthy competition, separations, blame, and silos. Organizations where you don’t feel safe to bring your “whole” self to the table. Where there are communication gaps, hidden energy blockages, and unspoken fears and hesitations. This is not a surprise, as Peter Drucker’s famous quote predicts:
“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”
The human body is inherently equipped with an amazingly intelligent self-healing system that is always at work, keeping our physical, mental and emotional states in balance. As long as the system is strong and nurtured, once an imbalance is detected, the system goes to work to preserve the “wholeness” of the structure.
In an organization, the leadership team needs to play this critical role in order to proactively and continuously detect and promote the health of the organization. They need to be the guardians and gatekeepers of organizational health. This requires the leaders to be sensitive, aware, and have the courage to act. Let’s explore these three key qualities a bit further as it relates to organizational health.
Sensitivity is the ability to quickly detect slight issues or imbalances. Most of us have a tendency to ignore or look away from people or process issues in an organization, and hope that over time, the issue would go away on it’s own. However, in most cases, the issue lingers on, builds up, and eventually turns into a bigger problem that cannot be ignored any longer.
Awareness has two aspects: Self-awareness, and other-awareness.
Self-awareness is the capacity to observe and examine our own thoughts, emotions, motivations, and behaviors. The capacity to stay true to our feelings and be authentic at any given time with present moment awareness of our thoughts and emotions. This is one of the most important and foundational qualities for a conscious leader.
Other-awareness is the ability to clearly see and understand others (or situations), as they are, with a clear perception, free from our own biases, judgments, or stories. At times we have a tinted view of people or situations that is based on our history, conditioning, or projections. Obviously, this is not an easy task to achieve, however, the idea is to raise our awareness and take small steps toward this intention every day.
Then comes the courage to act which can lead us to be an agent of change across the organization. Here, hierarchy, authority, or status cannot stand in the way of acting for the good of the organization. The key is to make sure our actions are not sourced by our personal interest or ego, rather it is directed toward the service and benefit of the overall organization. At times this requires us to step outside of our comfort zone and risk being vulnerable or rejected.
In a self-healing organization, every member of the leadership team is of this same mindset. They are sensitive, aware, and have the courage to act. This can only happen when there is synergy and coherence amongst the leadership team so they can operate as one entity. When there is clarity and alignment across the team, they embrace the same vision and speak with one voice. There is psychological safety for everyone to be their authentic selves and to admit their mistakes, knowing that their teammates are there to lift them up and support them. There is healthy conflicts, disagreements, and clash of ideas, without taking things personally, which is the primary pathway to innovation and creative collaboration.