If you have been joining me here at Leading Thoughts for very long, you know that I believe the primary role of leaders is to assure a culture that creates success. I talk about this so much that when I recently walked through one firm, some folks started shouting, “Culture! It’s what’s encouraged to grow!” They were humorously letting me know that they’ve been paying attention.
Once we accept our responsibility for culture and once we accept the above definition of what culture is, there is an important dynamic we need to understand. It is this: for every culture, there are culture generators. A leader has to know what those culture generators are and has to make sure those generators are working for the firm and not against it.
Now, this basic truth is not hard to understand. Cultures are produced by culture generators. Think of American culture today. It is “generated” or produced by certain forces. We could take hours to analyze what those forces are. Certainly, television goes far in generating American culture. The classroom does also. Internet content makes a massive difference, as do trendsetting personalities on the public scene. We could list certain magazines and books, certain movies and national rituals. These are the generators of American culture.
The organization you lead has a culture. I’ve strongly urged that you identify it, understand it, and learn to shape it. Part of achieving this challenge is that you realize what other forces are also shaping your organization’s culture.
Every leader knows that there are people who routinely kidnap meetings and cause them to go off course. These people are negative culture generators. There are also people who can shape culture through the jokes they tell in the breakroom or the way they roll their eyes while the boss is speaking. There are people who shape culture by always talking about the virtues of some other organization or the strengths of some other leader.
More positively, every leader knows—or should—that there are people who feed the healthy culture of their organization. These people—and they can be at any level in the organization—talk about how grateful they are or constantly praise other people. When they have a concern, they handle it in a way that makes everyone better and not in a way that destroys. These are the types of people likely to say, “We trust you, boss” in a meeting and thus ennoble everyone who hears.
Take a minute. Ask this question: What is generating the culture that dominates your firm? Think of the good and the challenging. Think of the intentional and the accidental. Try to remember times you’ve had to wrest control back in a meeting or when you’ve suddenly realized that attitudes were being negatively shaped by some unnamed force in your firm. Know your culture. Know its sources. Master the skills of shaping it.
And here is an additional assignment. Think about what the culture generators are regarding certain topics. How about sexual ethics? Is a nasty locker room culture rising from the maintenance crew or from the executive suite? Are racist attitudes gaining sway through the crude bigotry of one employee? Are raw political views and insulting internet memes swirling throughout your firm, threatening the unity you’ve worked so hard to build?
All these questions are really part of a broader question: What generates the culture of the firm you lead? You wouldn’t allow yourself to be ignorant of the influences gaining sway in your home, right? Well don’t be ignorant of the forces shaping your firm either. Again, know your culture. Know its sources. Master the skills of shaping it.