The Lesson of Culture


The Lesson of Culture

Few things give leaders more leverage and cause more impact than developing culture. Culture is the combination of values, traditions, ideals, aspirations, and principles that determine what a team or organization stands for—and stands against. Culture says, “This is who we are. This is how we act. This is how we do things here. And this is how we do not do things here.” When a culture is properly instilled, leaders no longer have to dictate from the top; team members get an intuitive feel for what is expected of them. Rather, their role is to hold people accountable to the shared culture and continue fanning the flames of inspiration.

Leaders must develop a culture of victory—a culture that says, “Here, we are winners. We will prevail. We will not be distracted or deterred from our mission. Nothing can stop us from succeeding.” Leaders are obsessed with winning. They keep score. They are constantly adjusting and adapting to changing circumstances and threats in order to achieve their objective. They stay fixated upon their North Star and sail in an undeviating course toward it, using their sails and rudders to adjust to the wind and waves.

This relentless focus bleeds down into the lowest ranks. In a well-cultivated culture, the lowest people in the trenches are animated, encouraged, and emboldened by the shared identity. They need not be hounded, prodded, or micro-managed; they take pride in their work and strive to live up to the cultural values and ideals. One of the most critical things a leader can do, therefore, is to communicate and cultivate a culture of confidence.

Leaders first cultivate a culture of victory and confidence through unwavering principles. Then they build on each success to deepen the culture. They never accept failure. When they lose, they do not place blame or proffer excuses. They accept responsibility. They adjust, adapt, and innovate. Their pursuit of excellence is relentless, their resolve dauntless.

A culture of performance, people are empowered to make independent judgment calls and decisions. Without being micromanaged, they take responsibility for the execution of ideas. They are not afraid to make mistakes; rather, their greater concern is with not taking action. They are held accountable for results, not how the results are achieved. They advance in rank based not on birth or privilege but on merit.

Values and traditions are the bedrock of culture, the DNA of your organization. Core values guide decisions. They are like an organization’s conscience and help you realize when you’ve strayed. When an organization strays from its values without holding itself accountable, the culture will be eroded and distorted. Performance will plummet. Just as people intuitively feel when individuals are out of integrity, they also know when the organization they work in is out of integrity, out of alignment with its values.

A leader’s primary role is to shape culture and hold the organization accountable to it. The leader is responsible for communicating to the team how critical the shared values are—not just through his or her words but, more importantly, through his or her actions. When people buy into the core values and see the leader living them, they are inspired to follow suit. They take pride in their shared identity. They strive to live up to the standards. Few things are harder to change in an organization than culture—and few things will give you greater leverage and influence.