What you don’t know, can’t hurt you.
Ignorance is bliss.
There are few, if any, instances in life — and certainly no instances in leadership — where this proves true. What you don’t know can hurt you.
Anyone who has been in leadership for any amount of time knows how painfully true it is that what you don't know can hurt your people, your customers, your reputation, and, ultimately, your ability to operate a successful, and sustainable, organization. If what you don’t know matters, getting insight into those blind spots is necessary work.
There is an alarmingly high percentage of leaders who simply don't understand organizational health. What differentiates a great leader from the rest is that they don't take this area of development as a personal affront—they acknowledge this is not an area that the business world has prepared them for, and they earnestly take on the task of educating themselves.
If you're one of those leaders who is ready to learn, read on, because these are four things most leaders don't understand about organizational health.
With that said, here’s what many leaders don’t get about organizational health:
A generation ago, “organizational health” meant health and safety in a physical sense. It was minimizing the risk of slips and falls or handing out PPE. (Still vital, of course!) But today, it has evolved to encompass psychological and emotional safety. It’s making space for people; it’s operating with transparency and vulnerability; it’s prioritizing trust and relationships; it’s collaborating and letting innovation thrive in an atmosphere that is unencumbered by fear.
While leaders may recognize this evolution, many do not dive deeply enough into organizational health. They stay in the shallows. How’s everything going? Good? Good. Do you feel safe and empowered to share your ideas? Yes? Good. Do you fear repercussions or reprisals for disagreement or challenging? No. Good. See, we’re fine. This is not indicative of organizational health.
It’s like passing someone in the hall and saying, “Hi, how are you?” and continuing on your way without slowing a step. The rote answer is “Fine.” Good. We’re good. But maybe we’re not. Maybe – likely – there’s more going on beneath the surface. These uncharted depths are where we need to explore. And we don’t go deeper for “feel-good” results — we go deeper to make your organization more effective.
It’s not you, it’s me.
This isn’t just a pat line — it’s a fundamental leadership truth. This isn’t about your team. They are reacting to you. It all comes from you. When something goes wrong, for example, the instant reaction is to blame. Anyone but you. You blame the warehouse. They prove it’s not their fault. So you blame your team. You don’t look at the why. It’s subconscious (you don’t really strive to be a jerk!). There may not be “fault,” per se. But there should always be accountability, and this starts with you.
Your people are looking to you. What do they see? A leader who is rushed and doesn’t lift his head from this phone as he strides by but expects his team to communicate effectively? A leader who fails to interact on a meaningful level with her people but expects them to function cohesively together? The bottom line is that issues on the team cannot be solved unless you first look at yourself.
If you are reading this, and it’s obviously not you… You are exactly who needs to see this. The ideas and concepts that trigger us are almost always the ideas and concepts we need help understanding — and implementing.
Think about people who want to lose weight and hop on every new trendy diet that claims to banish fat, opt into every it workout that promises to melt pounds, buy every piece of equipment that makes exercise effortless, and read every book, article, and blog about meeting their goals fast and easily. Guess what?
It does not work.
The same is true of leaders who embrace every new buzzword, order a copy of every new book, or sign up for every workshop that says it holds the key to improving organizational health and results. Guess what?
It does not work.
This is an ongoing process, and you need to be in the trenches. Learning. Growing. Trying. Assessing. Implementation is where the magic starts to happen. When you lean into it, accepting the one step forward two steps back reality, it does work.
HR has many vital roles — managing organizational health isn’t one of them. As a leader, you must take accountability for this piece. You can’t talk the talk, as it were, and then put the hard work of walking the walk onto others. Everyone has a role, yes, but you are the leader. It all starts, and ends, with you.
What you don’t know about organizational health can, and will, hurt you as a leader. It can, and will, hold you back and negatively impact the whole. Now you know. Now you can do better by those who are counting on you to lead them through.