Creating A Remarkable Culture: Learning To Lead Without A Title

Do you work in a culture that you would call “remarkable?” Are you depending on someone else to make it remarkable, or do you take ownership to create a remarkable culture in the area where you work and can influence? The title of this blog is the title of some of my most recent presentations and workshops. Here are some of the key messages I have been giving to organizations these days:

Building resilient, vibrant organizational cultures is about building leadership capacity at every level and in every position. I define leadership as the capacity of human beings to shape and create a new future by inspiring and engaging others. Leadership is what transforms mediocrity into greatness.

You don’t get promoted to leadership. Leadership is about presence, not position. It’s not a title; it’s a decision. Every person in your organization is a potential leader.

Growing and developing the leadership talent of every single person throughout your organization is your greatest competitive advantage in a turbulent economy.

Learning to lead without a title is the responsibility of every employee.

I love what Dr. Martin Luther King said about personal leadership:

“If a person is called to be a street sweeper, they should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare poetry. They should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did their job well.’”

Even if you have a title, you have to learn to lead without one. One of my clients is very wise. Before he promotes someone into a leadership position, he assesses their leadership capacity by inviting them to work in a nonprofit organization (of their choice) for six months, to see how well they influence with no positional power. “If you can’t lead volunteers, you’ll never be able to lead with a title,” he proposes. Not a bad philosophy.

How do you help people in your organization – with or without positional power – develop their leadership capacity? I’d love to get your thoughts on this.

Contentment and Culture

For those who follow me, you know that my focus is on building strong organizational cultures. It seems evident that cultures are a reflection of the people that live and work in them. I came across a great article in the New York Times about Costa Rica and how contented they are as a people. Costa Rica is certainly one of my favorite places on the planet. Take five minutes out of your day today to sit and read this article (link is below). Then reflect on how contented you are, and how your level of inner peace contributes to the cultures that you live and work in: your organization, your community, your family. Maybe culture isn’t so much what we “get from,” as much as it is what we “give to.”

Culture and Leadership – At Every Level

Last summer I made a clear intention to re-focus my work on organizational culture. It’s amazing what I have been learning since  then. I have been meeting some incredibly wise people who are doing life-changing work in their cultures. Not only am I working with and learning from some amazing executives about how to create aligned, engaged cultures in their companies, I’m also learning from school teachers how they build a culture in a classroom by engaging students. This week I worked with a group of entrepreneurs and we talked about building a culture in their teams by getting clear about everyone’s values, dreams, and goals, and aligning their business with each person’s strengths and talents.

Not only does culture reside within us as individuals, but it is also the hidden force that drives our behavior between us – both inside and outside our organizations. Each of the cultures we are part of – our families, our workplace, our communities, our churches – are part of us and impact us, just as we impact them. In every environment, whether we are aware of it or not, we function as “leaders” in that we not only reinforce and act as a part of the present culture, but actually are creating (consciously or unconsciously) the culture we live in. This interplay of culture creation demonstrates an interdependency between culture and leadership – at every level. It is, therefore, not enough that the CEO and top executive group  be concerned about and manage the “corporate culture.” Leaders at every level of the organization must recognize that they have a role in creating and evolving the subcultures in their parts of the organization. Deciding that you are creating the culture where you live and work – and therefore you are the one to step into healing it – is the ultimate act of accountability.

I’ve been receiving some wonderful emails about people’s experience of building a culture at any and every level. I’ve learned that culture begins to be strengthened when you get away from your computer and go where people are doing the work. Culture is about being in touch, listening, and really tuning in.

I’d love to hear what culture means to you and what you do within your sphere of influence to build a culture.

Connect by Disconnecting

I spent the past week with my amazing five-year-old grandson, Ethan. It was a week of “hanging out.” We spent time swimming, hiking, building puzzles and lego, relaxing at the zoo, chasing butterflies, reading stories, and, of course, napping.

Okay, I napped while he played. One morning we just laid on floor together and listened to a bird that sang in a way that captivated us both. One evening we sat and watched a caterpillar meander it’s way across the sidewalk for what seemed like hours. We bought a plastic paratrooper for a dollar and spent an evening throwing it up in the air and watching the parachute open. It was a wonderful holiday spent with a great kid. I came home refreshed, invigorated, and exhausted (it’s hard work playing with a five year old for a week!) Every time Ethan I spend time together my respect, admiration, and appreciation for stay-at-home parents increases.

And while my time with Ethan passed something else was going on. In order to be connected to Ethan, I was disconnected. No computers. No emails. No work. Just letting go and being present in the moment, allowing Ethan’s rhythm to become my rhythm. When I started to drift and become preoccupied with thoughts  about work, Ethan would inevitably do something to bring my attention back to what was in front of us. Time seemed to “shift” as I became more present to each present and precious moment. It had nothing to do with “time management” or finding a better use of time. It was like having a whole new relationship with time, with Ethan, and with life. I had the experience of having, in the words of one of my great teachers, Winnie the Pooh, “…so much time… so little to do.”

How do you stay mindful? How do you stay present?

Breathe New Life Into Your Organizational Culture

This beautiful little blog from a public service team leader, a participant in one of my workshops, inspired me so much that I thought I’d pass it along.

Breathing New Life Into The Public Service: It Starts With You. That’s the title of the conference I recently attended. Best-selling author, David Irvine was the speaker for the day. He speaks about leadership, organizational culture, accountability and well, life. He inspires me and challenges me almost as powerfully as my faith. I heart David Irvine.

Now, about breathing new life into the Public Service and about how it starts with me. Sigh. I was thinking about passing on what I learned from the conference about organizational culture and how it’s up to me to make it a great one. I could also talk about accountability and how it’s about people being able to count on me. Or about leadership and how I can’t be promoted to be a leader,

I have to earn it.

There’s so much I learned that day and I’m so pumped about it that I want to just blog about it all.
In my eight pages of notes from the session about culture, leadership, accountability and authenticity, there is one thing that I have learned. It’s so simple and so seemingly easy that you might fall off your chair when I tell you. Either that or tilt your head and go, “Really?” Yes. Really.

So here it is. Friends, I’ve simply learned to PAUSE.

In the everyday challenges of work and life, I have learned to pause.

On my way to work, someone cuts me off. Pause.

Someone complains my ear off about something they don’t plan to change. Pause.

I get back my 360 degree feedback. Pause.

I present something I’m passionate about and someone rolls their eyes. Pause.

Pause. Pause. Pause!

It’s fascinating what we can do within an itty-bitty pause.

Within that pause I can choose to embrace full rage and let it ruin my whole day, or shrug it off and let it go.

Within that pause I can choose to participate in boy bashing, work bashing and boss bashing, or exercise my right to excuse myself from a potentially toxic conversation that helps no one.

Within that pause I can choose to find out who gave me a 3.5 (out of 5) score on leadership abilities and hurt them very badly, or humble myself and accept the fact that I’m not perfect and I have oh so many “areas of improvement.”

Within that pause I can choose to let that eye-rolling dude break me down or use him as a stepping stone to break through my insecurities.

Within that pause I can choose to complain or do what I can to help fix the system.

That little pause breathes new life into my reactions. And when I breathe new life into my reactions, I breathe new life into my work… and breathe new life into my team… new life into my department… and yes, breathe new life into the Public Service.”

Building A Work Culture By Design

David Packard, one of the co-founders of Hewlett Packard and creator of the HP Way said,

“It has always been important to create an environment in which people have a chance to be their best, to realize their potential, and to be recognized for their achievements.”

He and his business partner, Bill Hewlett, understood the vital importance of culture when they built a company with the intent to have a competitive advantage. They understood that if you are committed to attracting and keeping the best people, providing the best possible service to customers, getting a grip on results, and staying profitable – long term – then you better be committed to building an aligned culture.

The passion and promise in our work is to build cultures of trust that attract, inspire, and unleash greatness.

What we have learned about culture includes:

  • While goals give you direction, culture gives you the energy to get there.
  • You already have a culture, even though you may not be aware of it or able to clearly articulate it. Culture answers these questions: What is my experience of being here? What is our way of doing things? What do we value? You are going to have a culture anyway, so why not have a great one.
  • If you are committed to attract and retain the best talent, culture will be the most important investment of your time and resources. This is because your best people have a low tolerance for compliance and insist on engagement. The talent pool is not only shrinking, those within it are educated, connected, and grounded in the idea of personal choice.
  • They want to be appreciated, acknowledged and loved. They want opportunity. They want to work with people who are non-judgmental, willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, willing to listen and mentor, willing to trust and willing to stand for their success. A tall order but that’s the new reality.
  • Culture is not what people say, but how they behave. It is shaped one person at a time, usually starting at the top. People are watching all the time and if it is perceived that there is more reward for delivering organizational results than there is for how those results are achieved, then people will either disengage or disembark.
  • You can either create your culture by default or design. If you are committed to create your culture by design, somebody has to make the decision about the kind of culture you are going build, and everybody needs to understand the process you are using to build it.
  • While it is always easier to build than it is to change one, changing a culture is always possible.

Ten Steps To Building An Aligned Culture

Leaders of a culture or subculture live at any level of an organization. They are what we call “culture makers.” Culture makers are people within a culture who are committed to building a better environment around them, and thus are deciding to be leaders (with or without a title). These could be entrepreneurs, divisional leaders, department heads, non-profit or team leaders, committed employees at any level, or even parents. It is these culture makers that we focus on to build an aligned culture. So here, in abridged form, is our process for building an aligned culture.

  1. Define your culture. Decide on the scope of the culture that you are committed to build – that lays within your sphere of influence. Is it your company, department, division, community association, team, family?
  2. Define your leadership team. Identify your 5-6 key leaders – allies that you will depend on to build your culture. These will be people who have the positional power, capacity, and commitment to make it happen. Be sure you have a Chief Emotional Officer on your team: a person with the positional power as well as the passion (a monomaniac with a mission) to take accountability for the culture.
  3. Get alignment at the top. Identify your core values that you, as a leadership team, are committed to living. Have an “offsite” leadership meeting to ensure that you are all committed to living the values, first with each other and then with your entire culture. If you are a “subculture” – a culture within a larger system, you will want to take the larger organizational cultural value statements and make them real for your culture.
  4. Develop a team “code of conduct” with your leadership team. Once you have decided upon your core values, you will need to develop a process that outlines your promises to each other: how you will hold yourself and each other accountable for living these values. This is about turning values into specific expected behaviors.
  5. Assess Alignment – And Connect to Reality. Decide on a process for assessing your current alignment between your “vision,” your “claim,” and your “reality” as an entire culture. In order to do this you will need to pay attention to the “visible” culture and the “real” culture – your current reality. You may need to take the time to get into the hallways, the coffee conversations, etc. to get to the grapevine and current reality.
  6. “Roll out” your values with your entire culture. Once you are clear about the current alignment, meet with your entire team. With your leadership team at the front of the room, outline your vision for this culture, your core values, your assessment of the current reality and the degree of alignment you see between your vision, your claim, your reality, and your leadership code of conduct. Explain how you expect to be held accountable for living these values as positional leaders – your promised actions as a leadership team.
  7. Have each of your leadership team members define – and build – their own leadership teams.  Meet with each member of your leadership team and help them define their own leadership teams and go through the same process with their respective teams. This will continue throughout the culture until, ideally, every person is eventually assigned to a “leadership team” or at least closely affiliated with a leadership team.
  8. Engage your employees – at every level. Begin and sustain the process – and build trust – through the power of courageous conversations. Create conversations around your values. Turn conversations about values into mutually agreed upon actions and promises. Tell the story. Shine the light. Acknowledge when and where individuals lived one or more of your values. Repeat the message.
  9. Define how you will convey to stakeholders outside the culture how you will live your values. How will you convey your values to your customers? What needs to be written in your marketing materials/website, etc.?
  10. Get your values into every system. Bring values into your hiring processes, your performance management system and HR practices. Only promote leaders who are living the values. Make it tough to not live the values.