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Overcoming Organizational Codependency Published: Sunday, October 13, 2002 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

The concept of codependency was first used to describe the unhealthy relationship of a significant other to an alcoholic. The significant other enjoys a positive self-image only when the alcoholic stays dry. The co-dependant self-esteem is contingent to the state of someone else’s addiction. The idea can be expanded to cover many other forms of addiction, and codependency can be studied as an underlying, primary limitation within the organizational and management world.

It is not healthy to always make our self-esteem or sense of human relevance contingent to the behavior of any individual within the institutional scenario. The point is that the theory of codependency provides an interesting framework to interpret the unhealthy dependence that is an underlying cause of problematic behavior. To the extent that people exaggerate on indexing their self-esteem to maintaining a given relationship with a significant other within an organizational or management setting, they are organizationally codependent. This also poses an interesting identity challenge to the extent that many people are where they work, and also there is the condition of people interpreting as a threat the possibility of loosing a specific relationship or a tide to an organization. Whenever a person commits himself / herself to a relationship or to an institution their self-esteem, sense of relevance and purpose are all activated.

There are some very interesting observations in regard to organizational codependency that are of serious importance to leaders, managers and professionals in general.

The conscious fostering of organizational codependency has been a cornerstone to traditional human resources and management practice for the past fifty years. Organizations offer benefit plans, compensation systems, promotional patterns, plus many other implicit and explicit policies and cultural norms that have resulted in binding employees to organizations for more than just a paycheck.

Organizations have done such a good job in fostering a dependent relationship at the emotional and social level that many employees react to a threat to their employment relationship with a feeling of violation. That explains the fact that some people develop personal immunity to organizational codependency by refusing to put all their emotional and social eggs in the organizational basket. They need to define themselves by their work, putting less emphasis to the location where they are doing the work. They should not couple their self-esteem to the organization, and they should share such a commitment with family, community, profession and a place of spiritual nourishment.

Many organizational leaders working under the old framework have difficulty letting go of three basic management premises grounded in the co-dependent strategy: equating dependence with commitment, motivation with perfect agreement, and paternalism with leadership.

Organizational codependency is reinforced by the norms, routines and myths carried over by the status quo. Management cultures that stress an internal focus on entitlement will experiment difficulty on fitting the new reality.

It requires a lot of courage and faith on the part of the organizational system to break codependency and form a new and more productive relationship.

 


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