"The culture of any organization is shaped…

corporate-culture-comics-improve-culture

…by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate." This has been one of the easiest newsletters to write for the simple reason that I see so many examples of the situation outlined in the undated quote above from Gruenter and Whitaker. So much so that it seems like the right time to break down why it occurs and provide some thoughts on how to help leaders avoid the this trap that many find themselves caught in. One of Peter Drucker’s quotes reads, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” which means when you get culture right, the rest will more often than not, fall into place.

The conversation begins with the definition of culture itself. We define culture as the shared set of beliefs, values and attitudes that guide the behavior of the organization. Every organization, large or small has a culture that is created in one of three ways:

  • Leaders hire associates who feel the same way the leader does
  • Existing associates are socialized into the leader’s way of thinking
  • The leader’s behaviors act as role models for the organization

The question is whether the culture exists by design or by circumstance. A culture defined and nurtured by design means the organization’s leaders can explicitly define the culture to anyone who asks in very clear and concise terms. They can tell you what their culture is in terms of specific attitudes and behaviors they expect and routinely hold the organization accountable to. A simple two-question set I use in my coaching practice goes something like:

  • How do you define your culture? (I am looking for clarity and no hesitation)
  • What does that look like? (I am looking for concrete examples of attitude and behavior)

The ability to answer these two questions in clear and concise terms means the organization’s leaders at all levels created a culture that exists by design and with purpose!

Of course, the inability to answer these two questions in exact terms, or at all, means the culture exists by circumstance. It exists as a culmination of accepting the worst attitudes and behaviors within the organization. Without definition and accountability, the culture merely becomes the sum of its parts. When the parts are average and mediocre, the culture will reflect that as a whole.

So why do leaders who are quick to say they will not lead average or mediocre businesses do so in spite of themselves? It begins with their inability to define specific attitudes and behaviors they expect from themselves and their followers. A leader who says they value their associates and then does nothing about a bully is out of integrity relative to culture. A leader who says they have a culture of collaboration and then accepts results at any cost is out of integrity relative to culture. Being out of integrity means the leader’s attitudes, words and actions are out of sync, and violates the very definition of a successful culture.

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there.” If business owners and leaders cannot define their desired culture of success, they end up tolerating average and mediocre associates, suppliers and even customers who hold them back from achieving their desired results.

How do you define the culture of your business and what does your culture look like?

Lead Well!

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Comments 4

Guest - David on Saturday, 11 June 2016 12:59

How interesting! When I ask a leader to define her/his culture, it takes a while to get a response; there's hesitation; or "I never think of culture." And then the conversation begins. I do my best to explain the power and importance of culture. Plus, I enjoy doing it.
Thank you posting this.

How interesting! When I ask a leader to define her/his culture, it takes a while to get a response; there's hesitation; or "I never think of culture." And then the conversation begins. I do my best to explain the power and importance of culture. Plus, I enjoy doing it. Thank you posting this.
Guest - RLochner on Saturday, 11 June 2016 21:51

David,
Thank you for your note. I get the same response many times and the conversation gets interesting when they understand that culture exists regardless of what they do as leaders. The question is it the culture you want or need for sustainable success. Thanks again
Rick

David, Thank you for your note. I get the same response many times and the conversation gets interesting when they understand that culture exists regardless of what they do as leaders. The question is it the culture you want or need for sustainable success. Thanks again Rick
Guest - ALochner on Friday, 27 December 2019 08:12

Hello Uncle Rick!

I’ve been binge-reading leadership literature over the past week or so and have really enjoyed your blogs! As a mere pawn in the grand scheme of my current organization, I was wondering if you have advice/blog posts about how to change culture and set boundaries for how behavior among peers rather than from a leadership position.

Thanks!
- Abrianna

Hello Uncle Rick! I’ve been binge-reading leadership literature over the past week or so and have really enjoyed your blogs! As a mere pawn in the grand scheme of my current organization, I was wondering if you have advice/blog posts about how to change culture and set boundaries for how behavior among peers rather than from a leadership position. Thanks! - Abrianna
Rick Lochner on Friday, 27 December 2019 14:16

Abrianna,

Great to hear from you!

You pose an interesting question about how to influence culture from within. Culture change implies attitude change so success is built on one's ability to influence attitudes around them. One's attitude drives one's behavior and its that behavior that will influence other's attitudes when presented in a strong and consistent manner.

Let's find some time to talk offline and get into the specifics of your situation at work.

Great to hear from you and I look forward to our live conversation!

Uncle Rick

Abrianna, Great to hear from you! You pose an interesting question about how to influence culture from within. Culture change implies attitude change so success is built on one's ability to influence attitudes around them. One's attitude drives one's behavior and its that behavior that will influence other's attitudes when presented in a strong and consistent manner. Let's find some time to talk offline and get into the specifics of your situation at work. Great to hear from you and I look forward to our live conversation! Uncle Rick
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