The Organization Versus Your Health


I admire the organizations that are structured around encouraging strong wellbeing for their people. It’s rare, but important in so many ways. Kinda makes sense that a growing organization would want employees who are sharp mentally, physically and spiritually. Only trouble is the rest of the sample size makes up the majority. They’re representative of organizations who may market themselves as a “best place” to work or a “healthy employer,” but the reality is far from it.

Call me the Upsetter of the apple cart. I’m not alone, you know?

One thing must be made clear; it is not the responsibility of the organization to make sure you have great wellbeing, that’s a you-responsibility. I certainly feel that many employees are bound and determined to kill themselves. The blame for the diabetes problem in the U.S. does not lie at the foot of H-P or BofA. Most of the blame is ours to accept.

Some time ago I observed the perfect storm of the organization versus the health of the employee. I was doing a project, unrelated to my work in wellbeing, I felt my senses and passion for the wellbeing of people come alive in the engagement. It would safe for me to write that as the organization was making great strides to move forward, financial results and such, the wellbeing of the employees was moving backwards. I can’t say if that reality kept the senior leaders up at night. One thing is for sure, as I look back, it should have.

So what are employees to do? They’re bombarded by messages telling them to save for a retirement that often seems like an impossibility, raise perfect kids that get scholarships to the best colleges, trust in an economy that never seems to be as good as reported, and the list goes on. I have a few ideas, not silver bullets, just some things to consider/try:

  • Make wellbeing a priority. This post could be a starting point for reference.
  • Don’t ignore your wounds. These are the emotional disappointments and failures you’ve never looked fully in the eye. Trouble always hangs around wounds not dealt with. Healing leads to breakthroughs.
  • Leave the organization that refuses to create conditions for good wellbeing. Make this decision with thought and care. Don’t wake up tomorrow and make an emotional jump. However, the problem must be dealt with.
  • Get a coach/advisor/wise-man/woman. This is not a time to go it alone.
  • Look at your bad habits and take responsibility. Like wounds, these need to be dealt with.

Health is undefeated in the game of life-good outcome or bad.


Focusing On the Small


Regardless of your endeavor, you probably have at one time or another thought about hitting it big.  Natural as the air you breathe it seems.  In many respects big is a good thing-if it is a part of your destiny.  For example, Nelson Mandela was meant to have worldwide notoriety and focus.  He was the right man for the journey South Africa was in.  It’s also quite a statement how he released power, while some of his contemporaries held (and are still holding) on.  See Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe on this.  In an ironic way leadership plays out like this everyday in organizations across the globe.

So as we hear the music playing our tune, it’s easy to embrace the big.

I’ve been asked about Oprah, about fame, about money, about feeling the love.  But rarely am I asked about the input, the mission, or the pain.  Maybe there’s no surprise here, since we are enamored with the output.  If I were not careful, I could easily miss the small while going for the big.  Thankfully, humility is now in my blood work.  Wasn’t always this way.

Here’s why the small is most important:

  1. Hitting the big is very temporal.  Hitting the small refines your soul. It will keep you focused.
  2. The small people are the biggest people.
  3. Those who are only fascinated by the big will leave you in a heartbeat when the party is over.
  4. The small allows you to serve from a perspective of reality and measurable outcome.
  5. The small will stay with you come good or bad.  The small knows dedication.
  6. The small will pave a way for greatness and a measurable legacy.
  7. The small reminds you (daily) that life truly is a moment by moment game.
  8. The small will not detour you from your destiny.
  9. Customers are always found and served in the small.

The Looking Back Thing

Looking back has tremendous value. I'm not referring to looking back with regret. Looking back with regret usually leads to mental paralysis. I'm speaking of looking back to gain perspective and clarity.

For me, a large part of the looking back thing is getting a sense of the notes God's been playing in the symphony of life. This has helped me be more aware of what the future could look like. My gut becomes centered around knowing what my next move should be. Here recently, the movement in that symphony tells me change is coming in my life.

Now before you think this is some overly spiritual pursuit or a complex riddle to solve, it can be very straightforward if you let it. For example, let's say your history in work has been most successful in large organizations. Maybe you've excelled there because of structure and well-established processes. Now, a new, smaller organization wants you to come on board and do your magic. Looking back will help you understand where you've performed best and what environments work best for you. It doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't work for a small organization because they're still forming, it just means looking back can inform you of where you perform best. It might even be a predictor of your success. I've had to make more than a few mistakes in this dept. to learn this.

The following are what I consider to be keys to the looking back thing:

  • Stay away from regret when looking back. You can't rewrite history, so no sense in lingering over what could have been. This is hard work and your wellbeing will be the better for it.
  • Be humble. Don't think of yourself as rock star. An inflated ego will always distort your view.
  • Look back to inform and keep record of it. Refer back to it often.
  • Don't look for guarantees. Be willing to make a mistake. Often, mistakes lead to breakthroughs. 
  • Find someone or people to be a sounding board for what you're thinking.
  • Get a coach. It can help you clear the clutter and find the gold hidden.

The Essential Element

Until organizations realize that people are the essential elements of what make things work, we will forever have a win-lose proposition. Meaning, the organization thinks they've won and people are always on the losing end of the stick. Paying lip-service to this will only further deepen the hole. 

I admire any leader that has the courage to speak up and act. These types of leaders are willing to pay a steep price, in-order to fight for something worth fighting for. This is rare. Far too many people of influence are looking the other way.

The absence of leaders willing to raise their hands is the rot we have on our hands.

Candor and Clarity

I've written before about the importance of clarity on the part of managers. Most of that was directed at mid-level managers who are often tasked with leading individual contributors.

This post is directed at those who are steering at the senior level. It may be an obvious, but candor and clarity is important. Consider the following:

  • Every organization should be willing to be clear and candid about the direction of the enterprise. If you are a publicly-held group, then you may have some disclosure issues to navigate. That said, legal limitations on what can and cannot be disclosed should not be an excuse for a lack of candor and clarity.
  • Every organization should let their employees know what the value system is based on, even if it means the employee is not at the top of the list. Avoiding this discussion/communication could be fatal. So many employers and employees operate under assumptions. Assumptions that go out the window when the storms come.
  • Every organization should be clear about how the organization makes money. This places a shared accountability and education.
  • Every organization must understand the life-cycle of and employee and give those employees the room to move on. So many organizations live in fear of employees leaving. Turn-over (internally or externally) due to terrible managers is bad (really bad), turn-over due to an employee completing the mission and moving onto a new dream is a great thing. By the way, the latter example might make your company a highly desired place to work.
  • Every organization should be able to communicate when the end is near. I know it sounds morbid, but don't tell an intelligent adult things are good when collapse is not far off. By giving them the tough reality upfront you give an opening to prepare. Every good employee deserves this kind of candor and clarity.

If you work for an organization that finds candor and clarity nearly impossible, I would consider moving on because a lack of candor and clarity is usually a sign of decline. The irreversible type of decline.

5 Questions with Lois Kelly of Rebels at Work


Welcome to our 5 Questions Series. These are interviews I'll be putting out there in the coming weeks for your digestion and inspiration. There will be a variety of interviews with thought leaders from many different walks, so buckle in.

I'm honored that Lois Kelly is our first interview. I've known Lois for some time now and she never ceases to inspire me. The following conversation is no exception. Enjoy!

Why do rebel thinkers so often feel miserable inside of their organizations? 

Three overwhelming reasons. Restlessness, loneliness, and self-doubt. 

 We’re a restless bunch, always seeing new ways to do things better, easier, faster, better. Yes, I say better twice because we’re wired to keep raising the bar on excellence. Needless to say our ideas and relentless energy often exhaust or threaten our colleagues and bosses. So people often keep us at arm’s length, even those who appreciate the value we bring. This can feel lonely and lead to self-doubt, “Why aren’t they moving now on  this idea? Am I off base? Am I not communicating the value well enough? Is it me or is it the idea? Why can’t I just slow down and take it more slowly like everyone else? Do I belong in this organization?” 

What value do most rebel thinkers bring to the table?

 Rebels have the courage to name the elephants in the room, see new ways to solve problems, bring outside ideas into the organization, and be the first to try new approaches.  My research has found that rebels call out problems others are afraid to (92%) and challenge assumptions and sacred cow practices (92%), both of which are essential to real innovation, but often shunned in organizations.

The other overlooked value rebels bring is devotion to duty. Rebels care more about their organizations than most people. That’s why we ask the difficult questions that most people feel more comfortable avoiding, and risk being snubbed for suggesting unpopular ideas.  We want our organizations to be the very best and we believe that our colleagues and we have what it takes to achieve more than our competitors.

(see the following chart for more)

Why are many managers afraid/intimidated by rebel thinkers?

We tend to trigger three threats that are wired into every person’s pre-frontal cortex, including those of our bosses.  Our ideas often threaten managers’ sense of status, certainty and autonomy. 

An overwhelming number of managers believe that they are supposed to create the strategy and have the answers — and employees are meant to execute on those ideas. Not question them. I’m the boss. I’ve got the senior vice president title. Hence, I know more and you should respect me for it.  It sounds silly in this day and age of empowerment and collaboration, but protecting our status can lead all of us to act in illogical ways. 

We humans are also wired to crave certainty. So when we rebels present innovative ideas that have no best practice precedents or haven’t been Six Sigma’d we trigger fears about certainty. Managers worry, “How will we know this will work? What if we make a mistake?” You get the picture.

The last threat is autonomy. Our managers like doing things their way. To suggest something different is to violate their sense of control and autonomy over what they know and like.

What are the consequences of not engaging with the rebel thinker?

Missed opportunities, a complacent corporate culture, and a talent deficit.

Rebel thinkers see risks and opportunities earlier than most people. This is a tremendously valuable competence in age of such rapid change and smaller windows to seize and capitalize on opportunities. One way to look at rebels is as your “intrapreneurs” bringing entrepreneurial thinking, speed, and competitive instincts inside the organization. They spot ideas and see ways to make them real.

The other consequences are that shutting out rebel thinking sends a signal to the organization that creativity, diversity of thinking and change are not welcome. When that happens, your best talent usually leaves, and the culture becomes complacent. Not rocking the boat. Accepting good enough as good enough.  In today’s hyper competitive world, few organizations can survive with a “good enough” approach.

What is most surprising about corporate rebels?

Rebels are not motivated by formal recognition or financial incentives, nor are they “troublemakers.” They’re self-motivated to want to make a difference to their organization and to solve things that are not working as well as they could. My research found that just 27% want formal recognition. What they do want is to be asked their opinions more often and be invited to work on teams to solve specific issues. They don’t want to just talk about ideas, opportunities and problems, the want to make things happen.

The second surprising thing is how many closeted rebel thinkers there are in companies. People are yearning to do more – and they know more about what to do than most executive teams realize.

About Lois

Lois Kelly is an international marketing strategist, organizational change facilitator, successful author and dynamic speaker. She’s passionate about helping leaders at all levels make innovative ideas real, and serves as a creative outsider, igniting organizations to see new ways to accomplish important goals.


Formed Opinion

Formed opinions happen all the time. We all walk around everyday setting things, and people, in place. You'd think we're setting the table for dinner. There is a certain level of comfort for humans when they can line things up.

The only problem is formed opinions are often flawed. Sometimes they can be fatally flawed.

When it comes to humans, we need to factor in the dynamic nature of how we're made. People are shaped by a lot more than you can know. And don't make the mistake of thinking a Facebook post is a true representation of the person's heart. Many people are fixated on being "ok." Not many are willing to be truly vulnerable. Living in an age of judgement makes vulnerability a risky proposition.

Organizations are a bit different. Their behaviors are driven almost solely by culture. For example, if the culture is dedicated to serving customers, then that behavior will reign and the formed opinion will follow. I've known more than a few leaders who found this difficult to accept. But in the end, it doesn't matter what your marketing outlets say. It's always about what you do. One last caution, as you form your opinions about organizations (people too):

One event does not make a trend.

As you pay more attention to your formed opinions, remember that humility is a key component in making sure your formed opinions are solid. It's important because when you're wrong you can admit it and when you're right you won't feel the need to prosecute. I throw this your way because we're all limited.

The Right System and The Right Process for Growth

Computer motherboard

I know many who have good intentions.  I'm one of them!  I would love to tell you that's all you need to get to where you want to go.  I don't believe it is.  It is vitally important to have a system and process for the growth you seek.  This is applicable to your business and your personal life.

As you may remember, I embarked on my own 30 day breakthrough plan a couple of months ago.  This is the experience from one of our strategic partners Take Time for Your Life.  I'm happy to say that I was successful in my 30 days.  I am grateful for this.  Here's the even bigger take-away:

I was successful because I was using the RIGHT system and process. 

Many organizations today are perplexed by their lack of success and growth.  Maybe profits are up, but employees are disconnected.  Maybe their losing talent to competitors, even though training is abundant inside and outside of the enterprise.  So what gives?  If the organization doesn't have the right system and process failure is not far behind.

Many people in their personal lives struggle with issues for years.  Jumping from one idea or cure to the next.  They're desperate to find a breakthrough and are sincere in their motivations.  Sadly, it can be difficult to sift through all of the noise.  Again, it's paramount to find the Right system and process to address the big issues.  In this space it's important to be a critical thinker when it comes to who you will spend your time and money on.  I've come to a point where I won't partner with anyone that doesn't have a mission approach to what they do. 

Mission-minded people/organizations need to be paid, they need to market, etc., but the mission is always out front first.  They are TRULY interested in you and not yours (thank you St. Paul).

It's pretty clear that organizations can spend millions (they do) on training, engagement, well-being, process improvement and still find themselves languishing.  People can hire coaches, go to seminars, buy books, and find themselves in the same state as a business. 

The Right system and process is the starting point.  After that, you'll know what to do.

Trust Built on Pain

Have you used your experiences with pain (heartache, disappointment, failure) to build trust with your followers?  Do they know where you've hurt?

As crazy as it may seem, it's our experiences with pain that build trust.

It's the "I don't have to look over my shoulder" variety.  So many people/clients/organizations are searching for this even if they don't know it.

Show them the way.

How Management Could Improve Organizational Well-Being

Da Vinci Whole 
As we at Epic Living do more work in the well-being arena, it's important to set the table around the importance of management's role in making well-being a reality.  I won't spend a ton of time explaining the need for managers to understand when to put the leadership hat on.  You can look at this post I wrote a few years ago to get my thoughts on that.  The reality is most managers have abdicated well-being to HR and the company's benefit offerings.  As well-intentioned as that may be, it leaves much to be desired in practical application.

Management is looked to for direction and pace (how fast or slow should we be moving).  That implies a great deal of influence over a number of people.  As I'm sure you're getting by now, management is more than checking off tasks on a list.  One area of huge importance is the well-being of the employees.  For example, how well do your people handle stress?  And how is that stress impacting the customer?

Let me be clear, it's not the responsibility of a manager to make sure their employees are managing stress well or that employees manage their lives well for that matter.  But they can play a part in influencing a balanced approach to well-being.  You may wonder why the manager should care?  It's pretty simple, those that manage their lives well will always outperform those that don't.  So, the manager should be a champion/cheerleader of well-being in their organization.  A true win-win proposition for the organization and the employees.

The following are some recommendations for management around encouraging an environment of well-being:

  1. Do engage with employees in a way that allows them to manage their well-being in their own way.  Management should not dictate and take a "take it or leave it" approach.
  2. Do consider the "whole" life and not just those that allow management to stay in an imaginary comfort zone.
  3. Do learn how to manage people from a perspective of diversity.
  4. Do focus on making your engagement about the employee and not about what you'll get by offering the resource(s).
  5. Do be committed to well-being as a long-term process and not a one-time event.