By Patti Digh
Are you circumstance-driven, or yearning-driven? That’s the question. I learned to ask
it recently upon delivering a keynote to a
nonprofit Canadian health care organization
on “new questions for old business.” To prepare,
I conducted pre-session interviews with
stakeholders and learned that circumstance
— not yearning — was driving both their
personal and professional decisions. They
weren’t doing what they wanted to do; they
were doing what they thought they had to do.
In response, I created two models —
“vicious” and “virtuous” circles —
articulating the feedback loops I
saw at play both collectively, at an
organizational level, and individually,
on a personal level. Using them, associations and the individuals who join them
can learn to make decisions based on
desire rather than fear.
A vicious circle is formed when an individual or an organization uses circumstances to make negative decisions. Consider, for example, this scenario:
1. An organization complains it can’t
find or retain good employees.
2. The organization can’t find and retain
good employees because it can’t provide
competitive compensation and benefits.
3. The organization can’t provide competitive compensation because its
funding has been cut.
4. Because its funding has been cut,
the organization seeks low-cost ways
to attract and retain good employees.
5. By not investing enough in recruitment and retention, the organization
can’t find enough good employees.
In vicious circles, circumstances are
the deciding factor. Phrases like “if only
…,” “they said …,” “I would if …” and
“but the economy…” are common. Organizationally, you may use them to describe
funding and personnel decisions, while
personally you may use them to describe
career change decisions or family situations.
Regardless, the vicious circles we’re
in negate the concept of choice; they
imply victimization. “I can’t because of
the economy,” we tell ourselves, or, “They
won’t let me.” These beliefs are self-perpetuating, self-fulfilling feedback loops; we
cannot break the negative cycles until we
can admit we are stuck inside them.
In a business environment buffeted by
the winds of change, economic crisis and
more, having a system in place to decide
how to decide is vital. Equally vital is
getting out of our reductive vicious circles,
which requires articulating and committing to a clear and singular intention —
regardless of circumstance.
Enter the virtuous circle, which is
motivated by vision rather than circumstances and therefore requires you to ask
— and answer — questions like, “Who
am I? What am I trying to accomplish in
the world? And what do I care about so
deeply that regardless of circumstance, I
am going to find a way to do it?”
Consider this scenario, which stands
in contrast to the vicious-circle scenario:
1. An organization decides it has the
right employees in the right positions.
2. The organization has the right employees in the right positions because it
spends time and resources to create
3. The organization invests in community because it recognizes the tangible
and intangible contributions its work
4. Because the organization recognizes
the value of its work, it believes that
investing in its people is the best way
to achieve its organizational goals.
5. By investing in its people in order to
achieve its goals, each of its employees becomes a stakeholder in the care
of his or her peers.
6. When they’re stakeholders in the care
of their peers, employees more actively
contribute to achieving organizational
goals, which assures the organization
it has the right employees in the right