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Leading Organizational Recovery Published: Sunday, May 16, 2010 8:00 am By: Ramón L. Rivera, President & CEO

Under the present circumstances of uncertainty, organizations are often in need of recovery-oriented leaders. Recovery happens in an environment where people believe things can get better-that their life can, once again, be more than the difficulties they are facing.  This is hope.  Hope is the result of a vision, regardless of whether it is a small or large, of how things would be better if they were to improve.  This vision must be more than just an idealized and hazy dream, for it is the basis for the courage the person needs to act.  Without hope, a person will remain stuck.

Leaders, in their words and actions, must demonstrate they have hope.  More than just hope that the work will get done, a leaders hope is rooted in the belief that they are working towards a noble vision.  What do leaders do to keep their own hope alive?  How do leaders help others develop and sustain hope?  Both begin with the leader describing and blessing a vision that is describable and attainable.  It also requires the leader to develop, with other employees, an honest and forthright appraisal of how the organization must change if it is to meet this vision.  It demands of the leader a keen awareness of when the vision is too large to sustain hope, and when the vision is too small to be inspiring.

Hope thrives in a delicate balance between safety and risk-too far one way or the other and the organization will lose its way.  Hopeful leader's foster hopeful staff who then go out and encourage hope in the people they are serving. More than what a leader says, others watch what a leader does.  Who Am I?  What is my genuine authority in this organization?  Those are two essential questions for leaders to answer within themselves and support others in answering within the context of the organizations work.

This requires an acknowledgement of both the positional authority-the job tasks assigned-and the genuine wisdom-the gift and talents-the person is bringing to the group.  Staff must have meaningful roles and significant authority within those roles in order to inspire the same in others.  Empowered staff empowers people they serve.  Leaders are actively asking questions of themselves and others that encourage meaningful roles to be identified and given.  How do I use my work as an opportunity to discover and contribute the best of who I am?  What parts of who I am conflict with my role in the workplace?  Beyond my skills and education, what is the source, of desire to do this work?  What is the essence, the most essential gift, I am bringing to the workplace?

Recovery Oriented Leaders understand that building relationships is the primary underlying task of all planning and interventions carried out by the organization.  Community development compels the leader to expand the strategies of the organization beyond "personal preparation" (focusing solely on service-users skill development and symptom management) toward community preparation (locating and developing welcoming groups).

There are several significant challenges within this for the Recovery oriented leader 1) How can leaders expect service-users to assume meaningful roles and overcome stigma and isolation when they themselves are so often isolated?, 2) How does the leader effectively encourage staff to overcome their fear of team work?, and 3) How does the leader locate opportunities to contribute to the team rather than focusing solely on how the team can serve the organization?

The process of recovery is more complicated that "getting back" something that has been lost.  It involves the "uncovering" of the persons story to locate the places which are causing the person to feel suffering of some kind-whether due to feelings of unworthiness, confusion about direction, lack of relationships or places to belong, loss of hope, or lack of a meaningful life.  After the uncovering comes the "recovering" of those hurtful places in the person's life with new hope based on feelings of authority, meaningful choices, and a vision of a life that is worth going towards.  Recovery is about healing-it is about discovering the parts of ourselves that feel incomplete or broken, and committing ourselves to discovering our own path towards wholeness.

For many leaders, using the word "healing" in the same sentence with "organization" causes considerable wariness.  What does it mean to heal an organization?  The Recovery oriented leader views the organization as a living organism that goes through cycles of illness and health, just like the people the organization is serving.  Organizations, and the people in them, can face difficulties from unresolved conflicts, lack of commitment to a shared vision, employees who bring too much of their personal life with them to their work, and a host of other common organizational issues.  What parts of your organization are not functioning in a healthy way?  What parts of your organization would benefit from being whole once again? 

The Recovery oriented leader focuses on regular practices that encourage employees to share and release the tremendous weight of the stories of others they are carrying, have opportunities to share their own stories of success and frustration, gather to celebrate success, and uncover and resolve blocks to healthy employee interaction and service delivery methods.  This is challenging work for the leader. But surely is the pathway to re-creating organizational strength and capacity to respond to the ever-demanding challenges of our times.


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