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The Commonalities between Healthy Organizations & Successful Individuals


26Aug 2012

Recently, I was privileged to hear Patrick Lencioni speak at the Willow Creek Association Leadership Summit, and I have also been reading his excellent book, The Advantage.

Patrick believes that, while most companies and organizations have the technical and knowledge aspects of business down, “the advantage” the more successful organizations and businesses have is being a “healthy organization”.  He defines healthy organizations as being characterized by:

  • Minimal politics
  • Minimal confusion
  • High levels of productivity
  • High staff morale, and
  • Low staff turnover (among good employees).

Patrick’s research and professional experience indicates that when a company has their intellectual side (strategy, marketing, finances, technology) working well and they are a healthy organization – they soar, and outpace their competitors who only have the “hard science” side of business functioning.

[His four disciplines needed for organizational health are excellent and I would encourage you to explore them in his book.  My focus here goes another direction.]

As a psychologist, I have evaluated over 4,000 individuals – usually with regards to learning difficulties they are experiencing.   In my feedback sessions, I often share with parents the core characteristics that make individuals successful in life . (I define “life success” as becoming an independent functional adult, having healthy relationships, and experiencing a level of happiness and contentment in one’s life.)

Why do I talk about these with the parents of students I have evaluated?  Because many times, the students have challenges (such as limited intellectual capacities, severe and multiple learning disorders, severe social or emotional disorders) that will make academic success difficult, if not impossible, for them.  (“Academic success” characterized in this context as obtaining good grades, attending an advanced private school,  or completing college).

If parents of developmentally challenged students focus solely on academic success (which is emphasized by their school community), then they can become quite discouraged.  But when we understand “life success” in broader terms – the goals are attainable for most individuals regardless of their intellectual or academic capabilities.

What are these core characteristics for life success?

*Getting along with others.  Everyone has to deal with other people in life – family members, friends and neighbors, bosses, coworkers, customers, vendors.  And if you don’t have the ability to get along well with others, life is difficult.  Some people think they can live “fine by myself”,  but as most of the functional adults in the world know, this isn’t reality-based thinking.

*Managing yourself – in two ways: a) emotionally, and b) through self-discipline.  Individuals who are severely or chronically depressed, anxious, angry, irritable and easily frustrated tend to struggle in developing long-term supportive relationships and also have difficulty in accomplishing life tasks (completing courses in school, performing acceptably at work).  Secondly, individuals who do not develop the self-discipline to go to bed at night, get up in the morning (the two are usually related), complete tasks even when they don’t feel like it, etc. – tend to not achieve to their potential in the tasks of life.

*Persevering through difficulties. Life is hard and it takes effort.  There are barriers and obstacles to overcome (sometimes it is called “problem-solving”).  This is true in middle school, college and the world of work.  If an individual does not, first of all, learn and accept the truth that “life is hard”, then they will be chronically frustrated with the life challenges they face.  And when an individual experiences success by persevering through a difficult course of life, they learn one of the most valuable lessons there is:  No one achieves their goal by giving up, but with perseverance, reaching your goal actually becomes a possibility.

*Having a learning attitude.  This is different than being a good learner in school.  Those with a learning attitude are willing to learn from others, take input and instruction on how they can improve, and actively seek how to become better in “life” – whether it is how to buy a car, how to make wise investments, how to not make the same mistake a second time, how to become a better friend . . .   The lessons in life are endless, that is why the most successful people are lifelong learners.

Yes, there are other important lessons I often share with parents (for example, learning that life is largely made up of choices and the results from those choices; that resources in life [time, energy, money] are limited and you need to learn to prioritize) but these four are foundational.

And it is interesting to me that they are highly interrelated with the core characteristics of healthy organizations – which raises two possible implications.  First, maybe the concepts are rooted in the fabric of life.  And secondly, maybe healthy organizations exist because their leaders understand the importance of these issues both individually and corporately.

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