Which Comes First?

Which comes first?

As we work towards Healthy Leaders and Healthy Organizations the question arises:
What is the higher priority; the health of the leader or the health of the organization?

Of course we want to see growth in both, that’s obvious. What leaders are asking is how the two important things interact and affect one another. Do healthy leaders make healthy organizations or is it more the other way around?

Here’s what I’ve seen:
-An unhealthy organization repeatedly hire apparently healthy leaders who either became or had hidden the truth that they were already unhealthy resulting in several years of dysfunction and underperformance.
-A healthy organization that hired a leader who was coming out of an unhealthy organization and was currently unhealthy. After some initial struggles the leader got healthier and there was significant success.
-An unhealthy organization promoting a healthy leader who invested heavily in organizational health with significant success, but later became an unhealthy leader due to outside factors.
-A healthy leader who took over an organization that appeared healthy but was stagnant. The efforts to bring change exposed some unhealthy patterns that were difficult to overcome because unhealthy people didn’t know they were unhealthy.
-A healthy leader leading a healthy organization that came into dramatic conflict with an unhealthy global head office that had hired an unhealthy leader resulting in great pain and the closing of the global organization.

And there are many variations on these themes.

Understanding that healthy is not truly a binary reality: neither leaders nor organizations can be fairly typed as definitively healthy or unhealthy; there are still some strong tendencies that are worth considering.

Organizational culture is very powerful and not easily changed (even with effective tools like The REACTION Dashboard). Most people are more affected by the relative health of their organization than the affect they have on it. In general, unhealthy organizations are more likely to drag down healthy leaders than the opposite.

But that is not always the case.

Some leaders who are healthy and have positions of significant influence can transform the health of their organization. Most organizations come to resemble their senior leaders over time so healthy leaders can absolutely bring health to organizations, if they are attentive, intentional, and persistent in both their own health and that of the organization.

So which comes first?

For leaders in positions of limited influence it is rare that their own health can bring enough change to make the organization healthy. In fact, if they find the organization’s dysfunctions beginning to negatively effect their own well-being it is often best to consider the possibility of leaving. 

But senior leaders who are committed to their own health can bring health to unhealthy organizations.

So the first step is Healthy Leaders, with Healthy Organizations following very closely behind and the clear understanding that neither is ultimately effective without the other, and that both are ongoing practices not achievements or certifications to attain and set aside. Health is a constant process of assessment, action, and adjustment.

Whether you see your primary need as Healthy Leaders or Healthy Organizations we have insights, tools, and workshops that can help you improve your current reality and develop ongoing practices that will ultimately lead to more resilient people and greater lasting impact. Contact Us for a free consultation to see how we can help.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Subscribe to the monthly Catalyst Content Newsletter