In 2002, when I took my first corporate leadership role, one of the wiser and more mature credit analysts in my department said that I must learn how to “play the game” if I was going to be successful.
Most organizational insiders recognize this reference. Whether deliberate or not, the notion of game-playing promotes separation between those who are leading and those who are being directed. I have often wondered if the practice of this perception is why many people develop a “them and us” feeling about management. When this perceived separation — or any arbitrary separation — is reinforced in business or our personal lives, it becomes day-to-day reality.
Through my own personal awakening, I have begun to believe that perceived separations have created roadblocks to achieving long-term objectives in individual business offices and greater global society. The sense of chaos and tension between employees and employers is part of our need to begin thinking through the creation of a new paradigm. In such a complex world that is ever-changing, where is the most appropriate place for us to begin if we want real sustainable change?
I’ve always prescribed to the idea that organizational performance begins and ends with leaders. So, let’s start there.
To become a successful leader requires a high degree of desire and significant skills and abilities. Although leaders are often labeled as mechanistic, they really are human beings first. They are subject to the same learned and conditioned responses as those whom they lead. One of the most important aspects, which often goes unnoticed, is a leader’s intentions. The manner in which leaders define the pursuit of desired outcomes is critical to the evolution of organizational cultures and the manner in which teams are able to functionally operate.
Organizations share a unique collection of values and norms that control the way they interact with each other and with external stakeholders. These values include beliefs and ideas about organizational and individual goals and definitions of standards of behavior to achieve the goals. Sometimes this is referred to as the “tone” of the organization; and, it follows that acceptable (and desirable) employee behavior and norms are defined by organizational values which influence member-to-member behavior. Incorporating all of this, the root of organizational culture creation can be simply defined.
We all can agree that every action is predicated by a thought. And every thought is fueled by an intention. Leaders create action through their ideas on how to move their business forward. Those ideas originate with thoughts that are fueled by their intentions. Over time, actions and behaviors are significantly influenced and are perceptible as things/issues important to the collective begin to emerge. This intangible but recognizable wave is organizational culture being shaped by consciousness, regardless of whether it is ever verbalized. Thus, the intentions that guide leaders’ thoughts really do matter!
Of course, the shaping of organizational culture is much more complex than the few paragraphs I have included here. However, I do believe that organizational cultures most likely to thrive now and in the future will ensure a continuous dialogue on the power of intention and the realities that are being created.
We are so interconnected that every time an organization or individual implements positive changes, all other organizations and individuals potentially share the winner’s circle and all of the newly born possibilities. When organizations begin to practice collective compassion for themselves and all of their stakeholders, the universal model improves and advances the greater good which, in turn, elevates everyone. These desired outcomes all start with the intentions of leaders.
Organizations are societies that develop their own myths, languages, behaviors, norms, and so forth. People working in organizations and those interacting with them bring progress to those societies; it should be no surprise that many day-to-day living and general society challenges mimic happenings inside organizations. Our behaviors result from repetition and conditioning, such as over-controlling and fear of being controlled. Employees and members of the general society often respond to fears (conditioned behaviors) by acting in ways that prevent or hide feelings of vulnerability or anxiety about being judged negatively by peers or leaders. Since perceptions become our realities, their fears are visceral.
Rather than risk job loss and the means to support our families and responsibilities, many employees maintain the status quo, which serves to perpetuate patterns of behavior. But, as leaders we have an opportunity to shift that paradigm by understanding ourselves as humans and our intended desires to create within our organizations. There is the real possibility that we begin to replace fear-based environments with love-based, supportive and compassionate environments. I hold that possibility close to my heart for the benefit of all.
As an organizational leader, it has always been my sincere desire to serve and to genuinely care about the people with whom I work. It’s an uphill battle to attempt to recondition teams who have operated in states of mass fear for most of their careers — fear of speaking up, fear of being judged. My ultimate goal was to create an environment where employees would be able to find direction and purpose in the work that they do every day.
Most of us spend one-third or more of our lives engaged in work. I believe that one element of our urge to work stems from our natural desire to engage in things that we enjoy, and to connect with and be part of something larger than our individual selves. This desire for belongingness feeds our individual and collective esteem. Leaders are often viewed as gatekeepers, deciding what comes in, and what goes out. How wise is the leader who minds the gate in support of organizational compassion, collaboration, authenticity and purposefulness. And creation of those outcomes most certainly will be an intentional act.
David Brown Jr. is a former senior leader in financial services and the author of “Letters for Lucia: 8 Principles for Navigating Adversity” (Koehler Books, January 2016). He earned a degree in finance at University of Delaware and an executive MBA at Villanova, as well as studying organizational leadership, psychology of leadership and organizational dynamics. He has a high desire to encourage others to awaken to their passions and begin to lead more purposeful lives. He is a certified Reiki Master practitioner and life transformation coach.
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