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Leaders and Culture

Tim Kight, one of my favorite leaders whose insights mentor me, recently tweeted, “It is the leader’s responsibility to clarify the culture, communicate the culture, and coach the culture.”

What does that mean and look like?

Culture is basically “the way in which we do things around here.” It involves attitude, actions, and alignment. Creating and managing culture is central and crucial to your role as a leader. It directly influences your team’s motivations and morale. The difficulty is, as Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In other words, you can have the greatest strategy, the most brilliant and optimum strategy, but your culture can gobble it up. Your strategy and vision will come to nothing. Brilliant strategists and visionaries have all fallen victims to a culture off track.

Sometimes people in leadership positions confuse leadership WITH their position, and they believe the company brochure or memo sent from the CEO outlining the company’s mission, vision, and values sets your organizational culture. Truth is those statements should be a reflection of the values that are already being lived out. Transformational leaders understand that a culture of leadership doesn’t start with a written document, but by the behaviors they model every day. You can’t simply write down a list or an eloquent document about what you want your leadership culture to be and expect others to follow suit. Your culture is crafted by the values you live daily. The values that shape a culture are not aspirational goals. They are actual ways we are living.

Leaders must understand and communicate with their words AND their examples clear vision. When they do, they create an attractive environment that is compelling to likeminded people who share those same values. You bring your culture to life by daily modeling the values yourself, inspiring people to adopt company values and change their personal behaviors to reflect the company culture. Leaders cannot expect culture to ever reflect anything different than the model they personally present every day.

Consistency is essential. Culture is alive and dynamic. When your team sees you practicing what you preach in the ups and downs of daily operation, they will be more open to buy-in and deep commitment.

Culture must be communicated over and over. if you don’t feel like a broken record, then you haven’t communicated it enough. If you are afraid of being redundant, you will drop the ball on communication. It takes a minimum of seven times to get a thought through to people so they know you are serious and actually understand. Leaders repeat, repeat, and repeat. Leaders are the Chief Reminders and the Chief Repeaters.

Unfortunately, communication is a place where leaders often go wrong. They get frustrated and annoyed. They say things like “But I’ve already mentioned that before!” “Does anyone ever listen to me at all?” “Why weren’t they listening?”

But the reality is that clarity doesn’t ever just create itself, let alone organizationally. When was the last time you read the owner’s manual for something you bought? You would be misguided as a leader to think that simply having everything written down and expecting people to read it over and over will happen and build clarity. It’s personally irresponsible as a leader as well to blame others. YOU hold the responsibility to provide THEM organizational clarity, not to put the accountability on them to seek it out. That’s poor leadership.

L. David Marquet in Turn the Ship Around says, “Clarity means people at all levels of an organization clearly and completely understand what the organization is about.” If you live out your values and create the culture every day, not just when it is easy or convenient, if you communicate consistently, making your values a regular touchpoint in conversations and decision-making, and you focus on personal responsibility for clarity, you will see your company transform. You should be able to walk up to anyone in the organization and ask what they are working on, why is it important, how it will benefit their clients, and how it aligns with their team and organizational goals.

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