Lee Ellis: Four healthy ways to improve business reputation and results

In Patrick Lencioni’s latest book “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business,” he points out that the greatest competitive advantage you can have is to be a healthy organization. He’s right.

So what exactly does that look like? Well, let’s take a closer look at the other side of the coin — an unhealthy organization. Here are three strong indicators:

  • A lack of trust leading to poor teamwork and alignment.
  • A lack of clarity about mission, vision and values.
  • A fear of conflict. People are not allowed to say what they really think.

With these symptoms, you can predict a lack of accountability on team goals, resulting in sloppy execution, inadequate results and ultimately, a poor reputation. As a smart business leader, however, you want the best results and a great place to work (they typically go together), so let’s consider the four fundamentals to achieve both goals. 

Build trust

Trust is the hallmark of a cohesive team. Without it, people have doubts, fears and uncertainty, which makes alignment and unity impossible.

Remember that we’re not talking about baseline trust such as, “Do I trust you not to steal my wallet?” Trust in this context means that I understand and accept you because you’re willing to be vulnerable and genuine. There are no hidden agendas.

Clarify and over-communicate 

Leading a business means facing many crucial issues and decisions every day. A good leader has the ability to synthesize large amounts of information into something simple. Too often, leaders assume that their staff see and understand what they do, and this causes problems with execution.

Imagine a quarterback having a complex play in mind, yet he only calls a short version of it in the huddle. If the players don’t have the same mental picture as the quarterback, mistakes will likely happen.

It’s the same in business. Leaders have to continually clarify and over-communicate the message down to the bottom of the organization to make sure the team understands what plays are being called. 

Create a safe environment and encourage debate

In healthy organizations, there’s an absence of fear, and courage is rewarded. Do your people have to walk on eggshells, or do they feel safe with you? Can they disagree with you and have a fair hearing, or do your reactions equate disagreement with disloyalty?

Healthy leaders invite creative conflict prior to making key decisions to get team buy-in and to make sure that other reasonable ideas are evaluated. They’re more interested in being effective than being “right.”

One of the greatest desires of all people is to be understood, so show courage by listening and learning from your people. Your courage, vulnerability and authenticity will be seen as strengths.  

Be courageous 

Leading isn’t easy. Every day you face tough issues, and your people are watching to see if you will walk the talk of your stated values. It takes all your courage and the support of your team and confidants to consistently lead with honor.

Lean into the pain of your fears to do what you know is right, and you will send a message of healthy courage throughout your organization. Remember that positive emotions are contagious and powerful, and leaders go first. ●

As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. His latest book about his Vietnam prisoner of war experience is entitled “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.” For more information, visit www.leadingwithhonor.com.