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Button Five

FEATURE: An Interview with Sara Grigsby

by Mira Ames, J.D., Communications Consultant

The purpose of this interview is to provide a model of practice for leaders – a model that supports healthy systems.

M: By way of introduction, can you describe to us again the goal of your work?

SG: For me, the goal of any work is to help create and sustain healthy systems – profit, not-for-profit, public, private, home, or community. By “systems” I mean organizations, groups, and the people that comprise them.

And thus far in our conversations we have defined “health” as dynamic wholeness. “Wholeness” means integration, alignment, and balance. And “dynamic” means vital, flowing, interactive, moving, or creative. So health – dynamic wholeness – is ever-changing in it’s expression, and continuously re-aligning, re-integrating and re-balancing.

M: How do leaders create and sustain healthy systems?

SG: They take the lead in this balancing act. Leaders move between activities for redirection and improvement on the one hand, and activities that stabilize and control on the other– activities that support dynamism AND wholeness – health. We introduced this idea in our last interview.

We could say that leaders are continuously crafting and re-crafting structures that either unleash change or bring stability – and usually it’s a combination of the two -- to bring forth the health, potential and capacity of the organization. Additionally, leaders exhibit discipline. They have a practice, or yoga, that requires conscious effort.

M: What do you mean by conscious effort?

SG: To me, conscious effort arises from self-awareness and is an extension of that awareness into our surroundings. In addition, conscious effort is goal-oriented and uses feedback to adapt and adjust.

Nothing done well is done unconsciously, at least, not for long, because without consciousness and awareness there can be no real feedback, and feedback is the mechanism for learning and improvement and growth.

M: “Discipline” or “conscious effort” sounds so heavy -- onerous.

SG: It doesn’t have to be. Discipline can be inspired by our commitments. It arises from our experience and the meaning we have assigned to our experience. It comes from the strength and clarity of our values and our sense of purpose. Using the language of health, the discipline it takes to be a great leader comes from our commitment to personal and organizational health. Discipline certainly takes energy and intention but that can be uplifting and inspiring.

And discipline, at least initially, is supported by – call it a framework or a support that we can refer to and follow. This may be the aspect of discipline that feels difficult and serious.

M: This aspect implies an external influence – a structure or impetus imposed from the outside.

SG: That’s right. Discipline has an internal, organic as well as an external, more rigid aspect. I would say that at its most sophisticated, refined level, discipline comes entirely from within a person. For most of us, discipline is both internally and externally imposed. Our inspiration is supported by some kind of trusted model, set of rules, or structure that we can follow until we become its embodiment. Gandhi said, “Your life is the message.” Well, until our motivations and intentions are refined and clear, and fully express our deepest sense of purpose, a model or framework can be our guide. When we “fix” an action according to a model (by, for example, committing to a rule or set of guidelines) the model feeds back to us how we are performing against its parameters. And as we learn, we refine our model. It’s a feedback mechanism that’s continuous, and that’s a good thing.

M: Can you give some examples of the benefit of using a model to develop discipline?

SG: For example, I say that I will run two miles, three times a week. If I do it, not only does my stamina improve but in holding to that structure, that commitment, I learn about discipline itself and how I respond to rules. I might feel the resistance of working for example. This tells me something about myself and to the extent that I can extrapolate to others, it gives me compassion. Or, I might notice that, after several weeks of running, I feel so much healthier that the resistance starts to diminish and I begin to look forward to running. This teaches me about the positive results that flow from perseverance and might enable me to help others push onwards when they feel discouraged.

Likewise in the business world, when we launch new programs or commit to a set of measurements and targets, we need to focus on them, design our days to address them, align our actions to them and understand what they mean. The discipline and perseverance that this requires will undoubtedly point out gaps in our understanding and weaknesses in our resolve. But it will also lead to organizational paybacks such as institutional knowledge, productivity, satisfaction and a culture of confidence.

So this is the value of discipline. It’s a big topic and it is critical to creating and sustaining health whether individually or organizationally.

M: Describe more specifically the disciplines associated with leadership.

SG: There is no one set of tools and techniques that all leaders will use and no final set of commandments that can be universally applied. The circumstances, expertise, technical processes, administrative requirements, and leadership styles are too varied.

This being said, in my experience working with leaders in a variety of settings, and drawing on the principles of health, systems theory, quality improvement and yoga that we discussed in our first interview, there are a few underlying practices or strategies that guide leaders in their decision-making.

In my own work, I come back again and again to these practices. They are disciplines that I impose on myself in working with organizations and groups who are cultivating a sense of identity and purpose and are aspiring to be healthy, productive and successful.

M: Can you bring these practices to life for us?

SG: I will describe the five practices as actions – active verbs. However they are categories of activities as well as descriptions of the personal state of leaders – the atmosphere leaders create around themselves, and the feeling that emanates from them.

M: So an effective leader is one who engages in all of these practices?

SG: Yes. These practices are essential to the yoga of leadership – crafting structures that create the change and stability necessary to bring forth the health of the organization. And the beauty of this is that, while they are disciplines that require conscious effort, once engaged, they have the potential to create a positive feedback loop. The leader’s commitment to organizational health inspires him or her to engage these practices. And these practices, in turn, because of their effectiveness, deepen that commitment.

Finally, this dynamic of growth can happen at all levels of an organization because the practices can be embraced by anybody, no matter what level they work at, or what their title. And if they do engage in them, even in the smallest way, this can promote the health of the organization as a whole.

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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