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.

Going through the proper channels sucks the life out of organizations


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.

  1. Apologize and make offenses right. You aren’t so magnificent as to never offend. Perhaps you’re negative when you should be affirming.
  2. Speak openly. Avoid secrets. Transparency defeats distrust.
  3. 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.

  1. Seek advice.
  2. Notice behaviors that give expression to organizational values.
  3. 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.

  1. Build initiative by asking, “What would you do?”
  2. Train people to say, “I intend to,” rather than, “May I.” (Thanks to Capt. David Marquet Ret. for this suggestion.)
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?