My pain story started when I took a huge Labrador for a walk. Actually, it was more like the Labrador took me for a walk—pulling and running ahead of me until she suddenly decided to change direction and force me into an argument with the laws of physics. The episode resulted in an instant crack in my lower back—not to mention a permanent dislike of the canine species.

Rather than take it easy on my now tender back, I continued as if nothing were wrong. I lifted heavy objects, moved furniture by myself, and refused my wife's offer of help in wrestling a filing cabinet into our new home. But the filing cabinet left me lying on the floor awaiting an ambulance ride to the hospital with an angry wife standing over me.

But today I am a changed man.

I listen to my wife more, and I have new respect for my spine. And yes, a couple of surgeries and a wife who said "Enough is enough!" have much to do with my changed attitude. Despite being angry with me for being stupid, she massaged my lower back regularly and even walked on me in an attempt to alleviate the pain. In my quest for a pain-free back, I spent thousands of dollars, visited all imaginable medical practitioners, purchased traction devices, and even invested in a very expensive massage chair.

The pain persisted.

So, what made the difference? My wife. She insisted I go and see a specialist so we can "get to the bottom of it." Before he agreed to see me, the specialist wanted an MRI scan of my lower back in order to suggest the next course of action. Suddenly all was clear. We could see exactly what caused my pain: two discs that were pressing my sciatic nerve. No x-ray could show this, only the MRI had the capability of showing soft tissue.

So I had an operation.

Today I am mostly pain free and able to move. I can almost contemplate taking another dog for a walk, this time a poodle.

So, what do tugging dogs, filing cabinets, and angry wives have to do with leadership? Organizational pain.

Pain? What Pain?

As organizations age and grow there is a tendency to make mistakes. Because of the mistakes made, every organization has issues to deal with. Those issues can be equated with Organizational Pain (OP). I suggest there are two fundamental errors organizations make as they confront issues causing pain: ignoring the pain and misdiagnosing it.

It is not uncommon for a growing organization to take its staff (both paid and unpaid) for granted. Objectives and profits become so important that workers are not listened to.

If organizations are unable to acknowledge their OP, the result will be a steady exodus of key people (if they have an option to leave), or will be manifested in a workforce that is detached, disillusioned, and does not perform to the best of their abilities. Ignoring the pain will not make the pain go away. Instead, it will spread.

This strategy of ignorance is particularly common in Christian ministries. The unspoken philosophy is "We are Christians; we are not supposed to have any pain in our organization."

The situation becomes more acute when the workers are blamed for the situation. From the management side, workers may be reminded that "they are not working for money but for the Lord," so they should also ignore the pain that is felt and discussed in offices and corridors.

It is important to note that rarely do workers criticize because they like criticizing. OP is expressed because it is either real or perceived. In either case top leaders ought to listen and respond, not to ignore or deflect responsibility.

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