I referenced here last week in my entry, “It’s All In the Game,” that The Gathering of Games Conference is one that is full of energy and, frankly, full of joy. It sounds strange to refer to a business conference in those terms, but I think they’re appropriate descriptions. First-time attendees like my Nicaraguan colleague Rene Mendoza recognize it immediately and cannot help but comment upon it. In fact, I overheard one participant ask, “Where does all that energy come from?”
The answers to that question could take many forms, because there are many ingredients that constitute such a sense of excitement, including the personalities of the attendees themselves. But one of the conference break-out sessions provided one perspective that I thought stated the organizational reality pretty well. It’s not a formula, but wisdom seldom presents itself that way. In this case, the insight comes in the form of three C’s:
However one might try to define it, character is the glue that holds organizations together. Even if an organization is temporarily performing acceptably, that performance will be negated in the presence of motives that are personal to its leaders. Leadership lack of character cripples organizations.
Some leaders simply love the power or their position and the ability to manipulate others with it. Some seek their own self-promotion. Others might recognize the chance to leverage their authority for the sake of a few. And within these instances, the seeds of mistrust, doubt, fear and indecision take root to destroy organizational hope. It may be assumed that leaders will deeply respect the responsibility entrusted to them, but character is not always sound or automatic.
The character of an organization- its sustainability and chances for positive impacts- is shaped by the character of its leaders and followers alike. Where members seek to serve as good stewards of their authority and resources, their organizations have a much better chance of surviving and thriving into the future. And good stewardship simply means the motivation to nurture and protect the the interests of all members and the community-at-large. It’s the care exercised when members have entrusted to their leaders their economic, social, cultural and community futures for safe-keeping. Character is the measure of how any of us cares for such precious matters. “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”
Of course, organizations must possess the intellectual and energy resources to accomplish their objectives. But before anyone dismisses this need as too obvious, consider the kind of competence needed.
First, there is the need for the personal competence of the organization’s members. In a corporation or non-profit entity, members are hired according to the specific knowledge or experience they can contribute to the institution’s success. In a cooperative or non-profit, members are added according to the specific knowledge or experience they can contribute to the organization’s success; the members must be added on the basis of their common objectives with the other members, and their willingness to contribute personally to the strength of the group. Too often, organizations are weighed down by the tonnage of unwilling and therefore incompetent members, people who have joined only for the benefits and none of the work.
Secondly, the organization itself has to demonstrate competence. Throughout its ranks of members, the organization has to ensure that every player is is clear about what is expected. In successful enterprises, organizations are specific in emphasizing the needs for everyone’s contributions, that without each member supplying his or her piece of the puzzle, the picture can never be completed.
Competence also builds upon the need for the right character. Character, and all of the expectations of it, can be a learned attribute like any other. When individuals and their organizations become clear about the need for certain competencies, a high level of ethical behaviors rises to the top of the list. Such actions only become the norm when the organizational culture expects it.
Finally, if the organization has acquired or developed essential competencies, it can begin to work on business competence. In short, the members must know, truly understand, how the organization will succeed. Members have to know the “business equation,” what actions will drive success, what each of them must contribute. If each player in the game does not have such insight, they might well be playing a different game altogether. And when members are playing by different rules, seeking different outcomes, the organization loses.
As if the first two matters of character and competence weren’t demanding enough, it turns out that when our organizations have finally experienced success, it’s not enough. Exercise of stewardship character and personal/organizational competence have to become the habits of a successful organization, practiced, repeated and refined consistently by its members. Habits are no more than repeated patterns of behavior, and every act by every individual every day has the potential to become habit, good or bad. Strong organizational consistency is the ability to reinforce the strengthening habits and eliminate the weakening ones. The best organizations have discovered the importance of teaching its members the differences between the two.
Like competence, consistency builds upon the issue of character. The strongest organizations maintain a reliably consistent posture with regard to issues of integrity; there are no “situational ethics” which permit decisions that are not in keeping with the organization’s character. And the greater the consistency of character, the easier it becomes to demand the same of every member. There are no exceptions to what is right.
The three C’s described above constitute a big part of the high energy experienced at The Gathering. People become naturally enthusiastic in environments where there is trust, where members can be confident that their teammates have accepted their responsibilities, and that such behaviors can be counted upon day after day.
It’s true for organizations in the U.S. and ones in Nicaragua. It’s true for businesses and non-profits. It’s true for secular and church. It’s true everywhere because it resonates with the human soul. Organizational environments like these free people to become more than they may have thought possible. That awakening creates energy, and makes the hallways at The Gathering alive with dreams….