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FEATURE: An Interview with Sara Grigsby

by Mira Ames, J.D., Communications Consultant

M: The name of your company is Healthy Systems. What do you do?

SG: I am an organizational development consultant, a facilitator and a trainer. I help people get focused and stay focused on a wide variety of strategic, operational, human resource projects. Broadly speaking, my work involves increasing the vitality, productivity and well being of organizations and people.

M: Why the name Healthy Systems?

SG: The word “Health” comes from an Old English word “hal” that means “whole.” The word “Systems” refers to organizations and the processes and people that comprise them.

The name Healthy Systems points to the reciprocal relationship between the well being of individuals and the health of the organizations that they are a part of it. It recognizes that you cannot have a strong organization without healthy employees, and vice-versa.  Healthy Systems is a continuing exploration of what it means to be healthy – how to create and sustain vitality in ourselves, in our workplace, in our relationships, in our products and services. 

Understanding deeply what health means, cultivating an appreciation of its power to increase vitality and satisfaction throughout any system, and helping people recognize and unleash health in themselves and in their part of the system – I am passionate about my work because by its very nature, it generates energy and enthusiasm.

M: Where did this passion come from? What lead you into this field?

SG: Who knows where passion comes from really? Certainly though, four traditions have reinforced and informed my passion. They led me into this profession and inform my model of how to create and sustain vitality in organizations. These traditions are: Yoga, Holistic Health, System Dynamics and Quality Improvement. All are based on the principle of wholeness – they recognize the interconnection that exists within and between systems.

Let me briefly describe these four traditions. Yoga is a practice that combines specific physical poses, or asanas, with breath awareness to integrate, align and free our body, breath, mind and heart. The practitioner’s goal is to live within and act from an awareness and state of wholeness.

Holistic Health refers to those healing traditions based on wholeness and a systemic perspective that recognizes the inter-relatedness of body, mind and spirit. Naturopathy, Acupuncture and Homeopathy are examples. These systems of health all follow tenets that our health or wholeness is always present, expressing itself as best it can under the circumstances. The role of the physician is to free and stabilize the patient’s vital force or health. 

System Dynamics, popularly known as Systems Theory, might be thought of as the business counterpart to holistic health practices. It’s a holistic approach to organization structure and functioning. It focuses on the dynamics of balance and feedback, on reserves/capacities (e.g. trust or dollars), and on rates of flow (e.g. inventory movement or information flow). Integration is key to a system’s ability to adapt and learn.

Quality Improvement is an umbrella term that includes many methodologies and tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Malcolm Baldrige or the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations are just two examples of such continuous improvement systems. Some areas of emphasis that are probably familiar to you include: customer service excellence; employee involvement and teamwork; process improvement and redesign to eliminate waste and add value; and data collection and analysis to discover root cause and for fact-based decision-making. Generally speaking, all of these branches of the quality movement must combine into one integrated approach used over time and throughout the system.

M: Can you say again what it is that these four traditions – yoga, holistic health, systems theory, and quality improvement – have in common?

SG: They share the fundamental principle of wholeness ­– that everything and everybody is connected, and that the connection is dynamic. So it’s a dynamic wholeness that we are after. Each of the traditions provides dynamic, integrative solutions to the “problems” we encounter.

M: And how does this principle – that everything is connected - relate to organizational health?

SG: First, I would say that the health of an organization is dependent on a variety of factors, such as: how well connected are the parts? How much flow and dynamism is there between the parts? What is the quality of the feedback – how clear is it? What degree of awareness is there? Is there tension or creativity present? Is the “wholeness” dynamic or is it fixed?

The principle says simply that everything within the organization is connected and the organization is inseparably linked with its surrounding environment. In a healthy, vital organization, there is connection and flow inside the organization as well as between it and the outer world.

The significance of this for managers and leaders is that when under stress, organizations – just like people – tend to become disintegrated – internally and externally. Individuals and departments become isolated or compartmentalized, and the organization loses connection to its broader environment. This behavior arises from fear, frustration, pressure, etc. And it has huge implications for how and whether we communicate in organizations. In addition, it can damage the ability for individuals and the organization as a whole to maintain the greater vision and purpose of the organization.

Many workplace tools and techniques are designed to reconnect, integrate, align and create flow. They help us by removing bottlenecks and blocks – whether it’s a production line bottleneck or a conflict between people. They help us reorganize a better structure for the function. They facilitate a shared understanding or vision so that people can act independently and on behalf of the whole simultaneously.

Strong leaders are those who can see the wholeness or health of the organization, whose local actions are based on this vision and awareness, and who can coach, motivate and position others in the organization to see and stay connected to a broader system-view or wholeness.

M: Can you talk about the title of this newsletter, “The Yoga of Leadership?”

SG: Yoga is a Sanskrit term that can be translated in a number of ways. It can be translated as integration, joining, or unity. It can be translated as a verb, “to yoke”. I like to loosely translate it as work – or discipline.

When people practice yoga, they are trying to connect or integrate and align the parts of their body and the levels of themselves – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. So the work of yoga is a work of integration, connection and wholeness. Cultivating wholeness and staying connected takes discipline and practice. This is yoga and this is leadership. I suppose we could have called this series of interviews “The Discipline of Work” but that’s boring and sounds dry, heavy and tense.

Yoga – the work that yoga is – is a movement toward health, clarity, satisfaction and fulfillment. So the practice or discipline of leadership in this respect also shares these qualities. It’s not drudgery. It’s energizing and creative.

In my view, the work of leadership is no different than the work of yoga. The effective leader is one who is able to find and develop this integration, connection and wholeness at all levels of their organization. First, they are able to perceive and cultivate it within themselves. Second, they are able to encourage and facilitate that health in their employees. And finally, they are able to foster connection and flow in the organization as a whole.

M: Who is your audience and what is the purpose of this newsletter?

I hope that the readership will be leaders at all levels in organizations ­– emerging, informal, and executive leaders.

The purpose of this newsletter is to generate a conversation amongst a community of leaders about the work of leadership. I would like it to serve as a mechanism for leaders and managers of all types to explore, make explicit, and share the mental models and working assumptions that they operate from in their daily work-lives.

In these first three issues, I will share my own perspective on organization development, health and change. In the issues that follow, we will publish interviews with managers and leaders with whom I have worked, and profile organizations that add to our understanding of leadership.

Mira Ames is an editor, writer and communications consultant. For the past three years, she has worked with Sara Grigsby and Healthy Systems on a variety of projects, including editing and helping to write training manuals on Meeting Management and Facilitation, as well as Project Management. She takes great pleasure in helping her clients use the written word to express with clarity and depth what matters most to them. Mira is also a professionally trained facilitator and mediator, has a J.D. from Suffolk Law School in Boston, and is a member of the Oregon State Bar

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