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Resillience Imperative

The second implication of the new leadership paradigm is that business leaders need to know how to build resilient organisational cultures. To do this they will need to recognise that organisations are like living entities. They are human group structures that operate like complex, adaptive systems—just like all other living entities.

Living entities are able survive and thrive only because each individual entity in a group structure has learned that its self-interest is wrapped up in supporting the good of the whole. So the question then becomes, “How do leaders create cultures that behave like living entities?”

We only have to look at a healthy human body to find the answer. Human beings are able to survive and thrive because the cells that make up the body learned at some point in the past how to become viable and independent in their frameworks of existence. They then learned how to bond with each other to form group structures called organs, which in turn learned how to cooperate with each other to form a higher order entity—the human body.

Each cell in the human body has a job. Each cell knows what to do, and can be trusted to work for the good of the whole. Our body organs cooperate rather than compete. They too are working for the good of the whole. All of this works fine until one cell decides to pursue its own self-interest. We call this cancer. A cell that becomes cancerous knows no bounds to its self-interest. It continually replicates itself thereby threatening the good of the whole. Cancer cells are normal cells that have basically stopped working for the common good.

This leads me to the hypothesis that human group structures and organisations in particular work best when:

  • Employees are viable and independent in their framework of existence—when all employees are accountable for their specific contributions.
  • Employees bond together to form viable independent group structures—when employees form teams or business units that are responsible for specific tasks.
  • Teams and business units cooperate for the good of the whole—when viable independent group structures work together to form a higher order entity (the organisation).

Our research at the Barrett Values Centre supports this hypothesis. We have found that the most resilient organisations have a strong alignment of values, a shared commitment to the vision or mission of the organisation, and a strong sense of personal accountability among all employees.

When all these factors are present, they create a high level of staff engagement and a low level of cultural entropy. Cultural entropy is the degree of dysfunction in a human system caused by behaviours that are rooted in fear-based self-interest.

In an organisation, entropic behaviours are driven by potentially limiting values such as internal competition, blame, silo mentality, bureaucracy, empire building, etc. The origins of these values lie in the hearts and minds of the leaders. It is the personal entropy of the leaders—the subconscious fears of the leaders—that create the cultural entropy of the organisation, which in turn limits the organisation’s performance.

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TNLP References

Chapter 1: Introduction (Resilience)