DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) holds the genetic instructions that enable all living things to function, grow and reproduce. Typically, we speak of DNA in reference to species development. However, I have also heard DNA used as a metaphor for organizational functioning and development. As we know, organizations are living systems, and if DNA holds instructions for development and functioning of living things, then
- Culture is the DNA (the formative messenger) of Organizations, and
- Consciousness is the DNA of Leadership
To communicate and enable performance, our human DNA uses messengers called genes configured in a variety of sequences (genetic code). To communicate and enable performance, an organization’s genetic code is its culture. Edgar Schein, in Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th edition), defines culture as
a pattern of basic assumptions, invented, discovered, or developed
by a given group, as it learns to cope with its problems of external
adaptation and internal integration, [… and is] taught to new
members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation
to those problems.
Over time, our assumptions and belief systems become deeply engrained habitual ways of responding to our environment. The longer we maintain these habits, the less conscious we are of their existence in our lives. We move them into our unconscious mind so we can keep our consciousness free for other things. As an example, do you consider yourself an over-, moderate- or under-achiever? That is, when you pursue something important to you, what are your habitual behaviours? Are you aware of your assumptions and beliefs underlying these habits?
If this was challenging for you, you can appreciate the compounded challenge faced in a 50- or 500-person organization. Imagine trying to get an organization with a culture of ‘blame and bullying’ to first of all accept the assessment and then to articulate its underlying assumptions and beliefs that led to the development of this culture. Similar to individuals, most organizations are typically not aware of their assumptions and, therefore, not aware of their culture. In other words, they are unconscious. Who is they? … the majority of organizational members including those in management.
When I stated earlier that consciousness is the DNA of leadership, I was not implying only executive leaders but rather all individuals because —
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more
and become more, you are a leader. Anonymous
At a recent presentation to the International Leadership Association, Marilyn Taylor (Royal Roads University) provided evidence of the unconsciousness and cultural gap we see in contemporary organizational life. Focusing on managing, coordinating and crisis intervention is going the way of the command and control hierarchy.
In an interconnected, uncertain, complex geo-political and socio-economic environment, surviving and thriving for any organization means being aware of its internal competencies and strengths. This organizational consciousness by all its members allows for rapid adaptation to unpredictable environmental shifts. When an organization’s culture engages and enables leadership throughout the rank and file as well as the executive suite, members are inspired, systems are integrated and the right relationships are cultivated and nurtured.
What is your organization’s attention and energy focused on? How can you inspire your organization to become more conscious?