The Body Knows

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There is an entire field, called Somatics, of study about how body wisdom and awareness provides important input for leaders.  For many business leaders, all but the most basic concepts are too esoteric to be easily embraced.  I got to interview one leader however whose comparisons between the physical body and the organizational body are remarkable.  And he should know.  In addition to his role as the CEO of a company developing some promising therapies for the human body, he is a physician and board certified internist and holds an MBA from a top B school.

During our interview, “Dr. Mike” (he asked that I keep details confidential) spoke about what he had learned in what is now a 12 year business career after 20 years of private practice.  “An organizational body responds in much the same way that the human body does.  An ER doc or an internist can tell much about the nature of what they will be dealing with based on some very obvious physical responses.   Specifics may come from X-rays or tests, but the body tells us a lot.  Many of the same stimulus response systems work in an organization.”

Dr. Mike then talked about a few.

Pain is a body’s way to telling us something is wrong and being certain that we do not ignore it. We may live with a small amount of pain, but if something is exploding inside, or broken, pain ensures we do not ignore it and reminds us that attention is needed.  The same is true in an organization.  A leader ignores the discomfort of those working in the company at significant risk.  Organizational pain is a signal that something is off, broken or even exploding and needs attending.  And just because you do not feel the pain, does not mean that the pain is not real to the organization or parts of it.

Proper nutrition, rest and exercise provide both fuel and conditioning to be certain that the body functions ideally. An organization needs not only nutrition, but regular conditioning.  That means training, development and an environment that sustains passion for the mission and the workplace.  It also means down time and the ability to unplug.  A properly maintained body is self -regulating, self replacing and a growth engine for most of its life.  The same holds true for an organization.  For the opposite case, we need only look at what happens (and how quickly) to a body that does not get appropriate nutrition, exercise and downtime.  If you can find this one in the mirror, you know where to start.

When things go bump, you may need to treat the symptom, but that will not put the body to rights. If you break your leg, pain medication is a major help.  But if the bone is not set and immobilized, the body cannot heal itself properly.  As in medicine, do not confuse treating organizational symptoms for doing the harder work of organizational development or healing.  The same holds true for the balance sheet and the P/L.  Short term fixes may provides some relief, but do not address the issues that inflict the symptoms to begin with.  And while we are an the analogy, remember that short term fixes, like pain medication, are often addictive and create dependency.

Sometimes, a trip to the doctor can be quite informative!

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