I am passionate about personal development and growth, and it never ceases to surprise me how the same personal growth principles apply to organisational development. Organisations are human systems, so it makes sense that this would be the case.
We are built as human beings to grow and develop. We feel fully alive when we learn and grow, even when growing involves inevitable pain. It makes life meaningful. To not grow and develop is to feel flat and uncommitted. The same is true of any organisation: for profit or non-profit.
In my reading and study of growth and development I came across three essential systems that made a world of sense to me: 3 major questions from Simon Sinek, 3 functions of the brain from Dr. Henry Cloud, and 4 core skills from Dr. Scott Peck. These form the Big 10 for personal and organisational development. Here they are, in a brief overview through my own lens:
– Three Questions: Why, What, How
This is where it all starts, according to Simon Sinek. We have to start with figuring out why we are doing what we are doing. This is true of individuals, and of organisations. The why is related to the most basic values and beliefs that govern who are we as individuals and organisations. This is also something we keep having to go back to, evaluate and ask questions individually and as a collective. It has to be clear what our purpose and goals are. In the words of Simon Sinek “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Clarity is paramount here, as is the need to keep going back to the question. As a human being, what do you believe in? What is your purpose in life? As an organisation, what are the common values and beliefs that define you? What is the company about? And: do all members own it, or is it shared across the board?
This relates to the means one uses to put those values and beliefs into practice. Consistency is called for in this area. If you keep doing different things, jumping from one thing to another, you create confusion and disengagement. In deciding what to do, the why has to be clear first, for the what flows from the why.
The how relates to the manner in which the means are used to fulfil the purposes and goals. Discipline is what is called for. In a nutshell, Sinek suggests that “People trust a product when you are clear about what you believe, disciplined in how you do it, and consistent in what you do.” Source here, worth watching!
– Three Functions of the brain
In his book, “Boundaries for Leaders”, Dr. Henry Cloud writes that there are three main functions of the brain that enable people to operate at peek efficiency. These are attending, inhibiting and remembering.
We cannot get anything done properly unless we learn to focus our attention on what we are doing. This is not easily achieved, as distractions are ubiquitous. This is what mindfulness training aims to teach us as individuals. Many of us suffer from some degree of attention deficit disorder. We jump from one thing to the next, attempting to multi-task, thus making ourselves tired and never getting anything done efficiently and well.
We cannot focus on one task at a time unless we learn to inhibit other tasks at the same time. When I drive a car, I need to focus on the road and the task of driving. If at the same time I attempt to have a phone conversation, plan the evening meal and answer an email, I will most likely cause a crash. What are the things that we need to stop doing now or altogether? What is distracting us as an organisation from the goal and task that demands our attention?
Dr Cloud uses the driving metaphor to explain that the driver needs to know where she is going and be focused on the goal, she needs to inhibit distractions, and she needs to remember where she is in the flow. Remembering is about knowing where we are coming from, and where we are in the process. When these three functions work together harmoniously, we are capable of high performance and efficiency as individuals, and as organisations.
– Four Core Skills
In Dr. Scott Peck’s famous book “The Road Less Travelled” he writes about the core skills necessary for personal growth and problem solving for individuals, which serves an ultimate purpose: “It is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning.” (M Scott Peck: “The Road Less Travelled”,
Random House, London, 2006, p. 4) The four tools of discipline are delaying gratification, taking responsibility, facing reality/truth, and balancing.
7. Delaying gratification
Not all investments are going to pay off immediately. When you plant a seed, you need to wait for it to grow. This takes time, and it requires patience. This is one of the core skills that children need to taught as they grow up, and it is one adults and organisations need to learn as well. If we always expect instant results all our endeavours will be short-termed and short-sighted. Give it time!
8. Taking responsibility
We cannot grow unless we learn to stop blaming others. Growth happens when we begin to take responsibility for things that are under our control. There will always be things we can’t control, but there are also things that we CAN control. For instance, I can’t control what a person says to me, but I can control how I take it, think about it, and respond to it. If I believe I don’t have that control, I am refusing to take responsibility. As an organisation, we cannot control market conditions, but we can control how we respond to them. We all need to learn to stop blaming others and grab the wheel!
9. Facing reality/truth
This is probably one of the most difficult skills to develop, and the reason many people never grow up. Humans are very good at self-deception and the fabrication of intricate fantasies to avoid looking at reality as it is. Generally we are afraid that coming to terms with how things actually are will force us to make difficult decisions. This skill takes a lot of self-awareness: we need to learn to expose the games we play to deceive ourselves and cover up the truth. Organisations have a tendency to live in Lala land out of the fear that facing reality as it is will demand a change of culture and practice. Change is scary and costly, so we play deception games.
Dr. Scott Peck identifies balancing as the tool to discipline discipline. It’s not useful to take responsibility for things out-with our control and duty. In balancing we attempt to figure out the difference between what is and what is not our responsibility. Balancing also looks at all the skills and keeps an eye on how they work together, avoiding to emphasise one at the expense of others. Balancing helps us to avoid extremes and learn to live in the tension of life’s paradoxes.
This is obviously a very brief overview, meant to give you a taste of something you can try out for yourself, rather than merely agree or disagree with. I you would like to go into more depth on each of the 10 steps, I recommend checking out the original sources.
How do these 10 steps sound to you? Do they make sense? Do they sound true in your experience?