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When Personal Issues Begin to Impact Organizational Health

Do you remember when you got your first car? When I was a teenager, I was eventually able to get enough money together, with some help from my parents, to buy my first truck. It felt like the greatest thing in the world. The truck was older and had some issues, but it was mine. I was so proud to own it.

I was out of town one week not long after, and I got a phone call from my parents, letting me know they had borrowed my truck. They went on to explain they had used it for transporting some manure for their garden. I thought to myself, “Okay, not a big deal, we’ll just hose out the back.” They then informed me that the loose manure had been dumped over the entire truck with a huge front loader, and… they had forgotten to roll up the windows.

My dad reassured me over and over again that they’d gotten it all cleaned out. I got back home a few days later, went out to inspect the truck, and it actually looked pretty good on the interior. But it didn’t smell right.

I decided to pop the hood, and I realized that even though the car looked very clean on the outside, the manure had made its way into the air conditioning system, the carburetor, and just about everything else. So now I had to clean the car from the inside. I had to rebuild the carburetor twice, remove parts from the air conditioning system, clean them, and put it all back together.

So why am I telling you this story? Most of us who serve in the cause-based community have a desire to be a vessel, or vehicle if you will, for a higher purpose. Oftentimes we can look really good on the outside. We can say the right things and present the right things, but if what’s happening on the inside isn’t right, we’re simply not healthy, and we begin to stink to those around us.

At Keenly, we come across health issues all the time in the organizations we work with. We may not see it at the beginning of a project. And that’s because people in general have gotten really good at hiding these things. We’ve sat in meetings before where everything looked and sounded great for the first couple hours, and then in the last hour we find people breaking down, sharing emotions, frustrations, betrayals, and more.

You might think organizational health is separate from an organization’s communication or strategy or brand. But it’s all intertwined. We find that almost every communication breakdown that exists at any level is either caused by unhealthy relationships or it is creating unhealthy relationships. And you can’t possibly have effective strategy without healthy communication among your team members. Furthermore, your brand is who you truly are as a company. Without internal organizational health, your brand will eventually begin to suffer in one way or another.

Organizational health is directly related to the personal health of its people. We live in a culture where who we are and what we do are seen as two different things. People think that the issues we have “at home” or in our personal lives are irrelevant to the issues we have at work. But those things are in fact directly connected.

I’ll give you an example. If a pastor is dealing with an issue like pornography privately, he can still be seen by the congregation as having everything together. At least for a time. For a pastor to allow the effects of pornography (the hiddenness, guilt, shame) to come to the surface, how would his congregation trust him? These are the types of fears a leader will carry. The ability for a leader to shepherd and mentor his people becomes limited. For some it could be addictions to technology, alcohol, medication, or whatever it might be. We all run the risk of living a hidden life. As a leader, this is such a dangerous thing for your own health, but also for the health of your organization.

Just like my manure-filed truck – we may be able to appear healthy on the outside, but if we’re having serious issues in our personal life, it will eventually affect those around us and impede our ability to function properly and lead effectively. If our desire is to be a vehicle for whatever cause we’re trying to serve, our ability to not only appear healthy but actually be healthy is vital.

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