Tolstoy, an Anesthesiologist and an Agile Coach walk into an Organization

In Leo Tolstoy’s book, Anna Karenina, he offers this famous quote:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This quote has been applied to many contexts from the obvious familial setting to larger organizations of various shapes, sizes and forms.

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It’s true that each of these organizations is unhappy in its own way, but there are a set of commonalities that I’ve observed across the organizations that we serve. While each organization has a unique perspective or “accent”, the issues remain fairly similar across organizations of various industries and sizes.

A recent example of this phenomenon was discovered by our own Jim Ruprecht. A member of Jim’s network is a cardiac anesthesiologist. Jim, as he is often want to do, was discussing leadership with him recently. During the discussion, the anesthesiologist referred to a paper entitled, “Understanding Academic Medical Centers: Simone’s Maxims”. This paper published in September 1999 by Joseph Simone outlines a number of truisms that Simone observed during his career in medical centers. While the paper and the entire list of maxims, as written by Simone, can be found here, some of the maxims outlined appear to be applicable to many organizations that we have encountered during our work. The ones that resonated with me are as follows¹ :

• Institutions Don’t Love You Back.
• Institutions Have Infinite Time Horizons to Attain Goals, But an Individual Has a Relatively Short Productive Period.
• Members of Most Institutional Committees Consist of About 30% Who Will Work at It, Despite Other Pressures, and 20% Who Are Idiots, Status Seekers, or Troublemakers.
• Institutional Incompetents and Troublemakers Are Often Transferred to Another Area, Where They Continue to Be Incompetent or Troublemakers.
• Leadership Does Matter.
• Leaders Are Often Chosen Primarily for Characteristics That Have Little or No Correlation with a Successful Tenure as Leader.
• Muck Flows Uphill
• Personal Attitude and Team Compatibility Is Grossly Underrated in Recruiting.
• People Fired for Incompetence Will Almost Always Land a Better Job at Higher Pay.
• The “Fit” in a New Job Often Is Not Apparent for at Least 18 Months.
• Longevity in a Position or Institution Is Not a Good Measure of Success, Accomplishment, or Happiness.
• Organizational Battles Are Recurring and Continuous, and No One Can Win Them All.
• Success, Ironically, Depends on Recognizing and Adapting to the Dominant Cultural and Financial Features of One’s Era.
• There Are Strong Temptations to Compromise One’s Mission by Unhealthy Alliances with Sources of Power or Dollars

A number of them appear to be applicable to the work that we do in our organizations every day.

Do you agree? Is each organization unhappy in its own way or do Simone’s Maxims resonate?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

In the meantime, please give us a shout if we can be of any assistance with your Agile coaching or training needs. You can view our offerings here.

¹Note: Some of the wording has been changed to remove reference to either Medicine or Academia. The capitalization is provided by Simone.