We’re all kinda broken.

Broken window lg (jpott)
Image courtesy jpott

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with friends, all of whom work in different industries. We shared war stories about the places we’d worked; it got us laughing and finally someone joked, “where are the good companies, anyway?”

I’ve been thinking about that question lately. Are there good companies? Are there bad companies? And what are we really worried about when we talk about organizations in this way?

War stories about previous jobs aren’t often about the work itself. “The wireframing work was above my head.” No one says that. No one says that it was too hard to figure out how to use a library, too complicated to incorporate all of the design elements onto the page. Instead they talk about the people problems.

Every single one of us has a story about a boss who was unfair or a crappy office chair they couldn’t get replaced or an unending series of stressful late nights leading up to a deadline. The moments that drive us over the edge have to do with not feeling valued or listened to or protected from the client. When we ask for good companies, I think we’re asking for good people – and more than that, I think we’re asking that the good people show up for us, day in and day out.

And in many of these cases, the good people we’re talking about are the leaders.

Good companies are those who can get out from under the personal challenges of its leaders. While a strong leader can be a compelling, inspiring, driving force for a company, she can also hold it back from truly succeeding because of the very things that challenge her personally. Some people have family issues that show up in the board room. Some people’s marriages fall apart and so they take it out while reviewing design work. Some people can’t come to terms with the level of responsibility they have, so they neglect leading. If personal challenges are affecting the work, the potential of the organization is  held hostage to the personal growth of the leader.

This is why some CEOs hire coaches. Because sometimes we realize that our company has taken on our own human characteristics… and they’re not serving it well.

Good leaders make good (though sometimes flawed) choices. They arm themselves with smart people, find resources to do it better next time and they aren’t afraid to course-correct.

But nothing – and no one – is perfect. Each company is broken in its own way, but this is what makes companies (and humans) beautiful to me. Maybe the good ones are just willing to admit their brokenness and to do something about it.