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Creating ‘Authentizotic’ Organizations 
Home | Creating ‘Authentizotic’ Organizations 

Vast numbers of organizations around the world complain that there is a dissonance between what their leaders say and what their leaders do. Such an accusation can be true only as long as leaders are unaware of their own psychological drivers. It is ironic that, while people see value in learning new skills, they rarely see value in looking at the ingrained character patterns they themselves bring to the use of those skills. And yet it is those very patterns that dictate their behavior and their decisions. As long as such patterns are unconscious, leaders will be unable to align espoused theory with what they practice. As long as they are unaware of the scripts in their own inner theater, they will continue to send mixed and confusing messages. As a Sioux Indian saying goes, ‘When you realize that you’re riding a dead horse, it’s time to dismount.’ When existing workplace behaviors aren’t working, it’s time to modify them. Unfortunately, unearthing the mental and emotional patterns that dictate behavior patterns can be both uncomfortable and disorienting. People in positions of power find it easy to avoid taking that painful journey into the self, because they can simply blame others for their own lack of performance, poor communication, and ineffective problem-solving. 

Responsible leadership requires a solid dose of emotional intelligence and the increased personal responsibility and effectiveness that come with it. Because taking a journey into our inner world can be a painful experience, we need to accept the legitimacy of employing professional expertise and support in helping us uncover our psychological drivers and make the personal shifts necessary for leadership effectiveness. We also need to accept that this kind of intervention takes time, and that any time applied by leaders to improve their emotional intelligence is time well spent; such activity is done not just for personal gratification (though it is personally rewarding), but also for the good of the organization and its people. 

Addressing Followers’ Needs 

Those leaders who want to get the best out of their people — who want to create an ambience in which their people feel inspired and choose to give their best — need to pay attention not only to their own inner theater but also to the inner theater of their employees. Only if both leaders and followers pay attention to what drives people can employees experience a sense of total involvement and commitment. The challenge for leaders is to create congruence between the personal needs of their employees and the organizational objectives. Such a sense of congruence will lead to a greater sense of self-determination. In other words, organizational participants will have a greater feeling of control over their lives; they will perceive (and rightly so) that they have a voice in what they are doing and where they are going. Such a sense of congruence will contribute to a sense of impact, a belief that each employee’s actions make a difference in the organization and each person has the power to affect organizational performance. This is what empowerment is all about. In addition, leaders have the obligation to contribute to their people’s sense of competence, helping them gain a feeling of personal growth and development, a feeling that they are learning new things. 

Beyond that, leaders who want to get the best out of their people need to introduce a set of meta-values into their organizations, values that transcend the more traditional listing offered by most organizations. These meta-values include a sense of community, a sense of enjoyment, and a sense of meaning. 

As we saw earlier, people feel a strong need for attachment and affiliation. Healthy, effective organizations address that need by creating a feeling of community. When employees feel a sense of belonging in the workplace, trust and mutual respect flourish, people are prepared to help others, the culture becomes cohesive, and goal-directedness thrives. A sense of community can be enhanced in various ways, including through an organizational architecture that favors small units and through practices such as fair process and transparency. Distributed leadership — leadership that is not concentrated at the top but is spread throughout the organization — is made possible by a sense of community, but it also encourages a sense of community. In organizations where everyone takes a part in leadership, senior executives take vicarious pleasure in coaching their younger executives and feel proud of their accomplishments. This experience of generativity — of caring for others — is a source of creativity and contributes to feelings of continuity in the mentor, who can see his or her efforts continuing through the work of successors. 

The second meta-value is a sense of enjoyment. In truly effective companies, employees enjoy their work. Indeed, they ‘have fun ’— words not often associated with the workplace. And yet playfulness fosters mental health. In far too many companies, a sense of enjoyment is either ignored or, worse, discouraged. Yet in organizations that have a gulag quality, imagination is stifled and innovation squelched. Insightful executives in exemplary organizations realize that taking people on an exciting, adventurous journey gratifies humankind’s essential motivational need for exploration and assertion. Exploration, enjoyment, entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation are all closely linked. 

Finally, the third meta-value is a sense of meaning. If what an organization does can be presented in the context of transcending one’s own personal needs — of improving people’s quality of life, say, or of helping people, or contributing something to society — the impact on workers is extremely powerful. Organizations that are able to create a sense of meaning get the best out of their people, drawing forth imagination and creativity; in such organizations people experience a sense of ‘flow’ — that is, a feeling of total involvement and concentration in whatever they are doing. Think about it: people will work for money but will die for a cause. 

Defining Authentizotic 

Organizations that cultivate and honor the above meta-values are what I like to call ‘authentizotic,’ a label that melds the Greek words authenteekos (authentic) and zoteekos (vital to life). In its broadest sense, that first part of the label, authentic, describes something that conforms to fact and is therefore worthy of trust and reliance. As a workplace label, authenticity implies that an organization has a compelling connective quality for its employees in its vision, mission, culture, and structure. The organization’s leadership has communicated clearly and convincingly not only the how of work but also the why, revealing meaning in each person’s task. The organization’s leadership walks the talk — they set the example. The zoteekos (vital to life) element of the authentizotic organization refers to those aspects of the workplace that give people the sense of flow mentioned earlier and help build a sense of personal wholeness, making people feel complete and alive. Zoteekos allows for self-assertion in the workplace and produces a sense of effectiveness and competency, of autonomy, of initiative, creativity, entrepreneurship, and industry; it also responds to the human need for exploration. 

The challenge for twenty-first-century leadership is to create organizations that possess these authentizotic qualities. Working in such organizations offers an antidote to stress, provides a healthier existence, expands the imagination, and contributes to a more fulfilling life. Authentizotic organizations are easily recognized: employees maintain a healthy balance between personal and organizational life; employees are offered — and gladly take — time for self-examination; and employees aren’t merely ‘running,’ but want to know what they are running for and where they are they running to — in other words, they constantly question themselves and others about individual and corporate actions and decisions. Recognizing that minds are like parachutes — they function only when they are open! — authentizotic organizations equip their people to think, and then encourage that revolutionary action. With these impressive characteristics, authentizotic organizations will be the winners in tomorrow’s marketplace, able to deal with the continuous and discontinuous change that the new global economy demands.

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MANFRED KETS DE VRIES, INSEAD, Boulevard de Constance, Fontainebleau 71305, Cedex, France. E-mail: manfred.kets.de.vries@insead.edu

Manfred Kets de Vries is Raoul de Vitry d’Avancourt Clinical Professor of Leadership Development at INSEAD. A prolific author, his specific interests include leadership, career dynamics, executive stress, entrepreneurship, family business, cross-cultural management team building, and the dynamics of corporate transformation and change.

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