Fundamental Organizing Principles

Fundamentals and great leadership – Part I

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

One of the (many) attributes ascribed to great leaders is that they know who they are. They are sure of who they are being and it is very likely they have thought deeply about why they are so. Without that self-knowledge and confidence they would not be as effective in their leadership. They would be at the mercy of circumstances.

The name I’ve given to the deep underlying knowledge that drives our lives is “Fundamental Organizing Principles.” These principles are so basic and so fundamental to who we are that we will not change them

unless we expend great effort and/or experience some life changing event (such as near death event). It is from these “FOPs” that we then develop the values, beliefs and actions which give us the results in our lives.

Some will do this hard work and others will espouse beliefs that are “imported” from others rather than figure things out for themselves. It’s difficult to draw on the vision and ethical decision making system required to respond quickly and consistently if one has not taken the time to really understand what is fundamentally driving their being.

An example of a very fundamental principle is difficult to provide since they are typically very personal. Usually, what we observe when we watch other people is an example of their values and their beliefs. If, for example, one has an FOP that the universe is indifferent and knowable, then they may exhibit a “value” for higher education so that they may have the tools for further understanding the universe in which they find themselves. From that value for education, they may develop a belief that education should be open and free to all, should be encouraged by all private and public institutions. From that belief they will make decisions to take actions, hopefully, that are in concert with the values and beliefs they hold. Those actions will generate results that will either reinforce the held beliefs or point out that perhaps the actions and beliefs have to be adjusted to live the values driving them.

Here’s a bit of a rub – we tend to see what we believe (not the other way around). Recent studies of the brain shed light on the way we see and “remember” things, and it isn’t pretty! (Here is a great summary of what we know so far: Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina – 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School). In short, we mix some of what was “seen,” “smelled,” “touched” and “heard” with strong filtering and then augment it with past experience and store that integrated “memory” away. This process is why so called “eye witnesses” are so notoriously unreliable. Yet, each of us believes that what we remember is true to reality. It most assuredly is not. So, when we have a belief it is very difficult for us to see “opposition” in the data – because we tend to see what we believe.

While the above discussion is focused on an “individual,” the process is largely transferable to our organizations. Especially for the entrepreneur, leadership includes consciously shaping the corporate culture and that generally means inculcating the values that “live out” the founders fundamental organizing principles. For the leader in a large, established company, the job of shaping the corporate culture is more complex than it is for the entrepreneur and requires great skill at managing change (a major topic in itself and subject of myriad books).

In the next post, I will discuss how the results we achieve must be constantly tested, verified and “fed-back” in order to ensure continuous improvement in our organizations. For now, I am interested in pressing the point that to be an effective leader the individual must understand the deep underlying fundamental organizing principles s/he uses to run her/his life. They are not all positive. At some point, early in your childhood, you may have encountered a situation causing you to draw the conclusion that you “aren’t good enough,” or that you “can’t do that,” whatever “that” is or that you “have” to have a college education to succeed, etc. You bring all those things to the table as a executive leader in your company, and you will unconsciously be limiting possibilities not only for yourself but your organization. So the question is – What are you doing to discover your deeply held Fundamental Organizing Principles? How are you consciously shaping the values and beliefs that comprise the culture you are building and shaping in your organization (culture being “the way things get done around here)?

(Here’s part II if you’re interested.)