Non-Profit Leadership: Leaders as the Brain of a Biocracy

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I have the privilege of having regular conversations with Dr. Sandra Bloom. Lakeside is managing her newly formed Creating PRESENCE organization which provides trauma responsive training and certification to organizations that are desirous to become trauma-informed in their knowledge, skills, policies and practices. It is an exciting new movement throughout our country for organizations!

In a recent discussion we had, Dr. Bloom expressed her thinking about organizations. She has been very consistent to speak to how leaders create environments for their employees. Often individuals are treated more like machines that function on an assembly line rather than the people that they are. The people in our organizations are so much more than a name, a number or a producer. We are all living, breathing human beings with all the complexity that reflects that humanity. 

Because organizations consist of that human complexity, we might more accurately describe organizations as a biocracy. It has all the aspects that humans have multiplied by the entire number of staff that interact with each other. Organizations reflect the emotions, relationships, stressors and capacity of its environment. There are losses that are felt, struggles that create obstacles, victories that are motivating and toxic factors that can impact our mission and capacity. Like the human body, organizations have different parts that work interactively to achieve the mission. If all the parts are working well, there is a momentum that feels aligned and empowered. Conversely if parts are not operating well the organization can become dysfunctional and unable to function effectively.

As Dr. Bloom and I spoke our discussion moved to the role of leaders. As she is working through her biocratic model she has categorized leaders as the brain of the biocracy. What does that mean?  As we understand the brain we know that it is an extremely complex part of our human functioning. Its function is a regulating one. It scans the body and the environment around it, recognizes what is needed and then disburses the appropriate enzymes, energy and power for the brain to maintain equilibrium. It manages the entire body and regulates its systems so that it functions with its parts all working together for its own wellbeing.

I think the comparison is obvious. Leaders that are effective recognize that our organizations work synergistically. They scan their environment, are aware of the threats, provide the energy and nourishment, keep everything regulated and ensure that there is enough equilibrium for the well-being of the organization. It is not as much about power and authority as it is preservation and building capacity to effectively manage the issues at hand. This assures that the inter-working parts are all healthy, functioning and energized for current and future challenges.

Being the brain of the biocracy is a significant responsibility that works in an interconnected way to sustain and support each part and person as a vital part of an integrated and functioning body. It is an essential role that is the chief caretaker of our staff and organizations.

Gerry Vassar


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