In this article I take you on a journey to my recent reading, and the points this gave to my search for more purposeful, and sustainable leadership, organizations and teams. These are highlighted in four suggestions that any leader or team can take up and reflect on, as follows:
- Put people first and facilitate them to define their purpose.
- Be ‘razor sharp’/clear on what your organization want to achieve and how your team fits this.
- Put into place and systematize clear pathways for ensuring the above two components – build a supportive model.
- Work with the leadership factor – be clear in your leadership for the above to happen.
These are motivated below, enjoy your reading.
The common saying that organizations are living organisms sets the foundation for this article.
According to complex adaptive system theory, organizations are always in constant change, where their different parts – including the smallest of them – continuously trigger vibrations across the entire organization, forcing adjustments, and readjustments to make space for such new realities.
These changes can range from new ideas being adopted, joining new markets, adding new clients to your portfolio, reviewing, and updating your strategy, hiring new staff or one of your staff leaving, and so on and so forth.
Yet, while all sorts of change are worthy of full attention, the most critical of all is probably founded in the ‘real’ living bricks of your organization, your team – the people. And it is simply because it is the people that have the rarest of the skills your organization needs – innovation and breathing life into whatever your organization tries to achieve.
It is not by coincidence that the biggest body of emerging literature on organizational development is about the people, or that the recent years have purposefully skewed towards terms like self-leadership, liberated leadership, job meaning, self-realization, purpose at work, and the like.
It is also well established that satisfied or happy employees (teams) are worth a ton more than unhappy ones, even when the two carry the exact same skill set. Nurturing your staff – ensuring their happiness, having meaning, and realizing themselves in what they do, then becomes the decisive winner in both their and your organization’s performance.
But how do you ensure a satisfied, purposeful team and the full potential of your organization?
In delving into this question, I have stumbled upon rare, yet very interesting perspectives that could be vital in facilitating a full circle toolbox for our answer. This resides in the writings of the philosopher Daniel Haybron’s on the ‘pursuit of happiness’, as narrated by Tod May in his book ‘A significant life’, which I have had the pleasure of reading over my summer vacation. Here, I was mainly caught by his definition of happiness and how this interplays in an individual’s life as well as how the individual engages with the world around them.
Haybron’s typology of attunement, engagement, and endorsement
You see, happiness whether individual or at work or in whatever we do in our lives, sets the foundation for how we engage – how much enthusiasm and energy we expend on what we do.
Profoundly, I like and therefore borrow on Haybron’s definition of happiness – that ‘rather than being an experience, or a passing feeling, happiness is an emotional relation to how one’s life is going’. That being happy is an individual’s responding emotionally to their lives, and how things are generally going for them, which is a particular alliance between oneself and one’s life. An alliance that Haybron calls ‘psychic affirmation’.
According to Haybron, this alliance has three layers: “Attunement, Engagement and Endorsement”, all set as kind of transitional building blocks that are interdependent.
Haybron states that ‘Attunement’ is the foundational layer. It happens when the world appears as a secure, rather than hostile place. To be attuned, is to be at home in one’s life.
It is difficult to be attuned, when the world seems to be bearing down on one – here giving examples including ‘a stressful job, vexed relationships, depressed lives, and not being able to meet one’s basic needs among others. While in turning the coin, a rewarding or meaningful job, flourishing relationships, stress free lives, and fluidity to meet one’s immediate needs, allow one to navigate the world more serenely and confidently.
Haybron denotes that ‘although you cannot say that ‘attunement’ is happiness in itself, it is hard to imagine being happy without the sense that one can steer confidently through one’s day’.
Engagement – Haybron’s second layer is built upon attunement
Haybron, uses the term “flow” to describe it – “as in being in flow”. To be engaged is to be consumed by the task at hand to be absorbed by it. When one is in flow, self consciousness melts away, energy levels rise, and one becomes lost in activity’. This in my opinion – as I hope the reader here would agree is synonymous with being enthusiastic and uptaken by one’s work and enjoying it for its fulfilment on oneself.
But Tod May, as well as Haybron, is quick to point out that ‘it is often difficult to be engaged without being attuned’ – as defined in the foundational layer. When we are not attuned, we are neither present in our tasks at hand. We are not fully focused, we are easily distracted, and therefore cannot commit our full potentials – and therefore can neither achieve our full potentials.
Imagine demanding of a team member to pitch at a client recruitment event when they did not have a proper night’s sleep because several of their tasks are lagging due to lack of time, or pressure from a bank loan, or simply struggling with loneliness in their lives, or their wife or child is not well. It would indeed take extra energies for them to be ‘knife sharp’ – and will probably not appear natural enough to your coming clients, which is commonly a bad business sign.
Haybron’s final layer – endorsement – he suggests is the one most often associated with happiness. ‘To endorse one’s engagement is to afirm it, it is, to say, or at least feel – that one is leading a good life. To Haybron, endorsement is the felt contentment with things as they are. It often involves a sense of success, if not, in the outcome, at least in the process. It is not just being fully engaged as defined in the second layer, but that engagement must feel good, and to assign success.
So, imagining again that you have a start client pitcher at events, they are fully attuned to doing their work stocked with the right resources and backing needed. They are fully engaged – they love this, they would happily live on this. Endorsement for them I would imagine would be both their reflection on their pitch as being the perfect – proud of it, as well as themselves, clients and or people around them attesting to this achievement. The final layer – endorsement, is difficult to be fully achieved without the first two layers, attunement and engagement, being achieved.
Team happiness and organizational potential – what we can borrow from Haybron
Well, does the above sound familiar with our everyday organizational programming?
Yes, it does, because we on everyday basis pour amounts of energies in strategizing and detailed organizational plans. And, every single month, quarter, half-year, and year – one after the other, our organizations return to our strategies to reevaluate and set new ones. Is’s a process that involves both reflection on performance and related bonuses or punishments (say rebuttals), all in the aspirations of ensuring that the next period will be better than the past. Our organization must achieve its full potential we insist.
Too often however, we get lost in being strategic at “what the firm wants to achieve”, setting all our energies and team engagement on this – which is not wrong. But it is not optimal if we forget to incorporate in this process an honest focus on what each member of our teams wants to achieve – their purpose, and how this connects to the organization’s purpose. And how this translates into a beneficial synergy for all parts of our organizations – both the individuals and the collective.
For us not to fall into the same ‘strategic entrapment’ and instead facilitate a proper ‘psychic affirmation’ or happiness based on realization of our or purpose, both for the individual and the collective, I delineate four things that Haybron’s perspectives could teach today’s leaders, teams, and organizations.
1 Put people first and facilitate them to define their purpose.
I started out by declaring that organizations are living organisms, and that while all their parts are important, probably the most important of all of them are the people that work in these organizations. It would also be strange if it was not the people! And with this common knowledge it is only self-defining to put people first.
But digging into Haybron’s typology, we must put people first the correct way. We need to be sure and able to facilitate each individual team member to define for themselves what their personally defined purpose at the organization is, and how we can best support them to achieve that. Remember, here I am not talking about the job description but how the people relate with the job description – the what, and how they see themselves being fulfilled by the job description on individual basis – the why. Of course, there is work to be done, but this drill will boost your organization’s performance by far if you are able to facilitate each of your staff to gain real attunement to their work, because then you can expect full engagement, and when they achieve their results and potentials you have a higher chance of them gaining endorsement.
The amalgamation of the different individuals achieving their potential in relation to their job for the organization I can only imagine will boost the organization’s full potential.
2 Be ‘razor sharp’/clear on what your organization want to achieve and how your team fits this.
Bear with me for using the term ‘razor sharp’, it is a direct translation from the Danish term “knivskarp”, which I find very interesting knowing how annoying a blunt knife or razor can be.
Again, of course it is common knowledge that any organization that aspires to achieve their goals also commits relevant time, thought and resources to this mission. So, no I am not presupposing the lack of this. I am instead raising it because it must be supportive to my earlier suggestion of ‘putting people first’ and being committed to facilitating their purpose. A clear strategy is the foundation for clear roles or job descriptions, and equally the foundation for what the organization wants to achieve – aspirations, how, when etc.
With a clear definition of what the organization wants/aspires to achieve, you organizationally can strategically position yourselves in a stronger way, but you also create the optimal preconditions for your teams to genuinely define themselves within those aspirations. They will not be left guessing on how they fit in, or how to engage and when, or whether the organization recognizes them or not, which can be a recipe for self-doubt and insecurity etc. They will instead have a clear framework for seeing themselves as relevant and needed building blocks to the collective aspirations, which increases the chances for their attunement, engagement, and endorsement.
In fact, a clear organizational purpose, strategy and processes, and the team’s easy fit/navigation in this and a sense of contribution to these are in themselves the perfect endorsement.
3 Put into place and systematize clear pathways for ensuring the above two components – Build a supportive model
It is not enough to have clear strategies and purposed staff in one year and this disappears the following year. And, while it is easy to write all these suggestions, they are in practice not equally easy, yet we must aim at achieving the optimal. It is going to be a daunting task to always be able to match individual aspirations to organizational roles and expect to achieve the attunement, engagement, endorsement typology. There will be many trials on the way, many pumps, setbacks, and necessary adjustments, but that is what it takes.
To be able to work towards this optimal, I suggest the organization systematizes a learning journal and a documentation of what has worked well and what needs to be puffed out on this journey to always be aware on these when they are visible. Here I am calling for an organization developing and systematizing their unique model – a template that makes the journey easier over time. This once systematized will save the organization time, and probably resources, but will also form a useful catalogue for quick adjustment and learning.
Remember to make this known to all your team members so you can benefit from a wide range of reflections and inputs. It also contributes to their endorsement.
4 Work with the leadership factor – be clear in your leadership for the above to happen.
This final point is only for precaution and therefore needs not a long paragraph. You as a leader must own and facilitate this process in your organization. This said, be clear in what you, your organization wants to achieve, and actively facilitate a conducive environment – frameworks etc., for this to happen.
Start with these four and be sure to track your results.
We hope this serves as supportive for your journey.