The ancient word for “hero” did not mean what we mean by the term now. Today, we think of a hero as someone who is famous, talented, or rich. In the ancient world, hero meant someone who broke through barriers so others could arise to their best. It meant someone whose example or deeds enabled others to achieve what they would not have achieved otherwise.
What you want in the firm you lead is a heroic culture in the ancient sense. Let me explain.
For a business to grow and succeed, it has to break previous barriers. You want to top last quarter’s sales. That’s breaking a barrier. You want to increase market share, number of customers, territory and quality of your product. All growth, all increase, all success comes from some type of breaking of previous barriers.
This is best done in a heroic culture. You build a heroic culture by encouraging and incentivizing barrier breaking in every arena of the company and in the lives of your people.
I recently advised a company that has built a heroic culture. They embed in the mind of everyone in the firm that breaking barriers both personal and corporate is what they should be about. From the CEO to the newest summer intern, everyone knows that they should strive to break barriers. And the company incentivizes it.
The middle level manager who got pregnant before she could finish her college career has finished a bachelor’s degree and is now pursuing a master’s. The company helped all the way. The 72-year-old engineer has a wall chart showing the mall walking barriers he plans to break. It’s positioned for all to see. The CEO includes his weight loss and bench press statistics in his weekly emails to all workers. By the way, he is, by his own description, “rotund.” It is humbling for him to post his weight, but he does it to help build a culture. Everyone in the company has identified a barrier they intend to break in their personal lives. These are announced at staff meetings—if the workers choose to do so—and then there is support, encouragement, and raucous celebration when barriers are crushed.
This encouraging and incentivizing builds a culture of barrier-breaking—heroism, in the ancient sense—that permeates the entire firm. If a man is devoted to breaking barriers in his personal life, then he won’t settle for stagnation on the job. He’s bought into a culture. That middle level manager who sacrificed to earn her master’s degree, to break past barriers, is going to roar after breaking barriers on the job. She has absorbed a culture. She is an exemplar of a culture. That culture is a rising tide that lifts all ships in the firm.
Build a heroic culture in your firm. Build a culture in which people rise, succeed, achieve, and break through barriers that previously held them bound. Your firm will become an exciting place to be, and the same devotion to achievement that people practice in their personal lives will permeate the whole organization.