Smart Vs. Healthy: Unlocking Your Organization’s Potential

What would you rather be: smart or healthy? Do you know a smart person who is not reaching their potential because of poor health? You can be brilliant, but if you are depressed, sick, or suffering from low energy, chronic pain, or inflexibility, your capacity will be diminished. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, health is one of the true sources of wealth. Without it, fulfillment is not impossible, but extremely difficult.

In his superb book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business, Patrick Lencioni makes an intriguing distinction between a smart organization and a healthy organization. Like people, organizations can be smart, but if they aren’t healthy, their capability will be weakened.

Smart organizations focus on:

  • Strategy
  • Expediency
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Technology,

Healthy organizations are about:

  • Minimizing Politics
  • Trust
  • Creating clarity
  • Morale
  • Employee Engagement
  • Energy
  • Holding people accountable to high standards.

“Smart” and “healthy” are equally vital to success, both personally and organizationally. It’s just that many organizations I work with are over-focused on “smart” at the expense of health.

Personal health is primarily about discipline and habits. And just as we have to take care of our personal health, we have to take care of the health of our culture, regardless of our position within the culture. Here is a list of disciplines that you can take accountability for in order to foster organizational health:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team. Whether it’s executive leaders, a board of directors, or parents, the relationships at the senior level set the tone for a healthy culture. Like a marriage, a leadership team needs concerted effort and time – away from the operations – to get to know each other, to learn about what matters most to each person, and to foster connection.
  2. Create clarity. Have an inspiring mission for why you exist and an uplifting vision for where you are taking people. Get clear about your values, how you expect people to behave. Get clear about what you expect from people and take the time to communicate these expectations. Clarify your most important priorities – your vital few – rather than your demanding many. Clarity breeds health.
  3. Make building trust your number one leadership priority. Identify your “significant seven” stakeholders – the people who you depend on and the people who depend on you. Spend at least half your time investing in these relationships. Listen for and clarify concerns. Connect to reality. Pay attention. Be in touch. Get to know people. Make contact. Listen for concerns. Remove barriers. Spend time coaching and mentoring. Bring a “servant mindset” to your work.
  4. Hold people accountable. “Everyone on a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are looking to you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it,” said Collin Powell, former US Secretary of State. Letting bacteria grow in a culture eventually turns to poison. A healthy organization is one with high standards, the courage to have the difficult conversations, and the nerve to make the tough decisions. There are many reasons why managers don’t hold people accountable, and I’ll address these, along with strategies to overcome these reasons, in future articles.
  5. Time for reflection. Healthy people consistently make room for reflection: on their lives, their work, and their priorities. Take a moment and reflect on the current level of health in your organization. Ask yourself what disciplines you need to start incorporating into your work and your life. If you reach inside, chances are you will find your own answers as to what it takes for you to have a healthy workplace and life.
  6. Come to work healthy. A healthy organization starts with healthy people. We don’t experience the world as it is. We experience the world as we are. An organizational mission statement will have much more meaning for you when you have a sense of your own mission. Organizational values will mean much more to you when you are committed to live by your own code of conduct. When you are healthy, you naturally foster health around you. “Be the change you wish for in the world.”