4 Deadly Enemies of Vitality
The most dangerous enemies of organizational vitality live inside your organization. They laugh when you stumble and hand you rocks when you’re down.
Some beasts lurk in shadows. You don’t see them coming unless you’ve learned to smell their stench or feel their presence.
But your most deadly enemies smile and bleed you slowly. They walk in the open and nod when you pass.
Your enemy wants your worst, even if he’s smiling.
4 Enemies of vitality:
#1. Distrust: the enemy of relationship
The way to defeat distrust is to build trust.
- Apologize and make offenses right. You aren’t so magnificent as to never offend. Perhaps you’re negative when you should be affirming.
- Speak openly. Avoid secrets. Transparency defeats distrust.
- Own hard truths. The enemies of vitality smile at cowardly avoidance. You can’t trust leaders who make light of difficult situations.
Vibrant organizations are safe.
#2. Disrespect: the devaluing of others
The way to defeat disrespect is to show respect.
- Seek advice.
- Notice behaviors that give expression to organizational values.
- Acknowledge challenges and honor progress.
Ask yourself, “How might I show respect today?”
#3. Proper channels: the destruction of initiative
Bureaucracy – going through proper channels – sucks the life out of organizations.
- Build initiative by asking, “What would you do?”
- Train people to say, “I intend to,” rather than, “May I.” (Thanks to Capt. David Marquet Ret. for this suggestion.)
- In meetings, ask, “What are we learning from failure?” Keep asking until you get interesting answers.
#4. Excluding the outside: the birth of complacency and arrogance.
- Have spontaneous cross-functional conversations. Pick up the phone and invite a manager from another department to your meeting. The “outside” includes departments or divisions within your organization.
- Debrief new employees with anonymous surveys. Better yet, have new employees describe your organization and its leaders to a coach, mentor, or consultant.
What enemies of vitality do you see walking the hallways of organizations?
How might leaders defeat some of the enemies of vitality listed above?
Dan, I see the “Channeling perspective” as the famed “double edged sword”, if we allow Willie and Nillie operations, you end up out of control so there is a sense of channling needed to prevent unexpected costs, calamities, that can occur with free reign. At the same point you tie hands so much “you restrict free thinking” and taking the “inniative” to get things done.
Some guide lines are needed to ensure proper handling of matters with the “Intent” ( per the Captain) to get things done, yet do things in an organized state satisfactory to all.
Thanks Tim. The first thing that comes to mind in view of your comment is clear direction. If you want an open playing field everyone needs to know which direction to run the ball.
I wonder how organization might be a tool that energizes people, rather than an energy drain?
What are the components of organizational structure that enhance energy?
The energy part is the employeee knowing the who, what, how, why and where.
Who are we working for, what needs done, how to fix, why it went bad, where is the work being performed.
The components can be forms with Job #, materials needed, Labor, equipment, Purchase orders for material and components, etc.
The complexity to everything is who controls the purse? Corperate (high overhead and operating costs)/Shareholders/profit margins/ dividends/etc.compared to small companies with no shareholders, low overhead, small operating costs.
Enemies of vitality:
Overbearing Egos & their attendant blindsides
(tonedeafness, bad optics, tactical misalignments mistakenly becoming strategic imperatives, personal taste overriding appropriate collective values, etc.),
In other terms … a failure of scale & proportion.
E.g. what may be fine internally (to get off the starting line to genuine innovation) may not be acceptable or appropriate when it comes to release (say, in marketing and sales).
When someone realizes this potential misalignment and can articulate it –
usually some form of questioning of an assumption that may no longer truthfully apply or be demographically appropriate –
and points out, “We can’t/don’t want to do/say that …”
and then dialogue gets shut down to speed things along and attempt to cover up the (usually obvious) flaw …
often the team scatters (mumbling to themselves or to others, “I don’t wanna be the the VP of THAT f’up)
while resources get wasted in backchannel politics and evasive maneuvers while the disaster goes public, the company/business gets hurt, or worse,
all of which inverts what has previously been a vital dynamic into a toxic one.
Arrogance is the enemy of learning and progress . think “what did we not consider” before saying “were done”.
So true … and,
“What needs to be reconsidered and more fully vetted?” before we can say, “It’s ready.”
Bureaucracy is the epoxy that oils the wheels of the organization.
I really liked today’s post. As a senior management team member, I see many of the issues you noted in my own organization. Specifically, I see several signs of distrust between departments. One example recently was when a couple of departments wanted to work together to improve their own KPIs. One of the senior managers involved in the meeting thought it would be a good idea to invite a manager from a third department (their customer) and me (quality representative). When we entered the room, the executive leading the meeting asked, “Who invited you to this meeting?” The inviting senior manager defended the reasoning and the we were allowed to participate in the meeting. What became very clear to me over the course of the meeting was that these two executives that organized the meeting had one goal in mind: prove through this activity that the quality issues being seen on the final product were not their fault, but rather the fault of the third department (the internal customer). They were not actually very interested in fixing anything, but only assigning blame to someone else. There was only the manager present from the third department. This instance cuts across points 1, 2, and 4.
For point 3, I see this also. As I am new to this organization, I find myself learning new processes and systems. Many are very different from what I experienced in the past. So I find myself scratching my head and asking, “Why do we do this or that in this way?” That is a great question to ask. What is very interesting, I often get the response, “That is our process…” When I ask again, “Why is that the process, and not…?” I sometimes get a good answer, and sometimes I get, “Just because.” or “I don’t know.” I find that gently challenging the organization the “Why?” question is a great way to force self-examination. It doesn’t always work, but it gets people thinking about why we do the things we do.
Thank you again for today’s post, and for the many great posts over 2017! I hope you had a great Christmas and I wish you a Happy New Year!!
Really enjoy the leadershipfreak readings the past years… Although I may be too specific on this one, but my recent job change to a small family business and witnessing the 4 Deadly Enemies of Vitality running in full force..!! Would like to see in the future blog… “Dealing with Old School Dictators within a Family Business”… Has been an experience so far….
Hi Dan, I always enjoy reading your posts though I don’t comment as often as I’d like to. When I read this post I was reminded of Patrick Lencioni’s book “The three signs of a miserable job”. I would add that organizations that diminish the value their employees bring to the table are breeding grounds for enemies of vitality. From an “enemy of vitality” point of view, organizations provide meaningless work to “anyone who can do the job” and no means to measure performance. I would also suggest that they fail to share in the rewards … how much did that CEO make last year? Argh ….