Whether you run your own small to medium-sized business, have a position in upper management for a large corporation, are a pastor of a medium or large-sized church, or consider yourself lower-level personnel, you have most likely encountered organizational dysfunction.
World-renowned business thinker and psychoanalyst, Manfred Kets de Vries writes, “In my role as a management consultant to executive boards, I have often been quite successful at creating high-performance teams and high-performance organizations. When I began to work with executive boards, however, I discovered that many executive teams are what I call “unnatural acts”.”
Though they come together to make serious decisions affecting the future of the organization and its people, they engage in ritualistic activities that center on political gamesmanship and posturing rather than substance. The “barons” of the various business entities – the heads of marketing and new product development, for example – are so busy defending their respective fiefdoms that true conflict resolution doesn’t occur.
Other, more intangible factors seem to take over as executives circle around “undiscussables.” While a six hundred pound gorilla sits on the table, smelling up the place, the senior executive squanders an incredible amount of energy ignoring its presence. Far too often, it has to be “high noon” (or beyond) before corporate leaders are prepared to deal with the real issues.
In many instances, as an outside consultant, I have taken it upon myself to nudge an executive team to grapple with their own particular “undiscussables.” In taking on that role, I have come to understand the meaning of the saying, “Fish start to smell from the head.” The Leader on the Couch (p. xv-xvi)
Kets de Vries’ thesis is that dysfunction begins with the leaders playing out their internal conflicts in the workplace. He writes about different personality types of leaders and how to move toward transformation for leaders and their organizations.
Jerry Colonna, CEO of Reboot.io, an executive coaching and leadership development firm, more or less promotes the same message related to organizational dysfunction. Colonna writes, “…the places we work, our professional lives, can also become a suffocating web of complex reenactments, the tripwires of past traumas laid out where unsuspecting colleagues are bound to trigger us” (Reboot, p. 113).
Our work relationships and workplace are the stages where all of our deepest, mostly subconscious battles are on display. Unfortunately, this display is often occurring without the self-examination that is required to improve the individual self, let alone the entire organization. To make matters worse, ignorance of the origin of the true problem leads to more damage.
If leaders are unable to resolve conflicts as Kets de Vries points out, there are measurable consequences to an organization according to the authors of Crucial Conversations. The authors describe a crucial conversation as having three parts: a risk if the conversation were initiated, differing opinions, and strong emotions attached to the opinions.
Just to name a few findings, they discovered through their research that companies with employees who are skilled at crucial conversations:
“Respond five times faster to financial downturns – and make budget adjustments far more intelligently than less-skilled peers, are two-thirds more likely to avoid injury and death due to unsafe conditions… [and] save over $1500 and an eight-hour workday for every crucial conversation employees hold rather than avoid.” (Patterson, Greeny, McMillan, and Switzler, p.12-13).
According to their research, there are direct productivity benefits to having team members who have strong interpersonal skills, particularly the ability to effectively resolve conflict. Their studies also demonstrated that safety in the workplace is correlated with the presence of employees who are skilled at these types of conversations.
These are critical motivators to grow as a leader in interpersonal skills and to inculcate such values as an organization.
As an expert in leadership coaching, Colonna poses a series of helpful questions in his book, Reboot:
- How did my relationship to money first get formed and how does it influence the way I work as an adult? What was the belief system around money and work that I grew up with?
- How can I lead with the dignity, courage, and grace that are my birthright? How can I use even the loss of status and the challenge to my self-esteem that are inherent in leadership to grow into the adult I want to be in the world?
- In what ways have I depleted myself, run myself into the ground? Where am I running from and where to? Why have I allowed myself to be so exhausted?
- Who is the person I’ve been all my life? What can that person teach me about becoming the leader I want to be? What was the story my family told about being real, being vulnerable, being true?
- Why do I struggle so much with the folks in my life? Why are relationships so difficult? What am I not saying to my co-founder, my colleagues, my family members, my life partner that needs to be said?
- What’s my purpose? Why does it feel I’m lost while I struggle to move forward? How do I grow, transform, and find meaning?
- How has who I am shaped the ways I lead others and myself? What are the unconscious patterns of my character structure that are showing up in my organizations?
- How might I survive my life of heartbreak? How might I live in peace?
- What kind of leader and adult am I? What is enough? How will I know when my job is done?
Colonna’s questions are an excellent starting point for a leader who is increasingly growing frustrated with her organization, church, or team. These are also questions that might require a leader to look to another to provide leadership coaching.
As therapists, we can help guide you through such questions. Whether or not your organization is a Christian one we can help you examine these questions through a Christian lens and assist you in growing a team or church into the organization that you had always envisioned or even one that you could not have imagined.
“Meeting”, Courtesy of Tim Gouw, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Arrogance”, Courtesy of Valentin Jorel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Spider Web”, Courtesy of Nicolas Picard, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Office Space”, Courtesy of Austin Distel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License