You Are The Culture

How do you think your staff and colleagues feel when your number pops up on their caller ID?

A few years ago one of my managers told me I was too nice. He said, “People need to fear you more.” This never resonated with me and still doesn’t today. When I get tough on people I tend to go too far and it backfires on me. As I mature and better understand who I am and what skills to exercise in a given situation I am discovering that I need to remain true to my personal nature. Yes, people need to know when they are not meeting expectations but managing with fear doesn’t work for me and for most individuals fear doesn’t motivate them either. I have to be tough yet respectful and empathetic. I’m in a leader position to support, inspire, coach and guide the team to perform at the most optimal level.

I think people with big egos and no self-esteem need to “show people who is the boss.” Ok, maybe I need to have a little more compassion. There are many people who come from crappy childhood backgrounds where they were never given the necessary grounding to build self-confidence or develop a good emotional intellect. These people fear they will be fired, or not accepted and as a result, they fret over the wrong things and drive people from the wrong emotional position. Often these people are very, very intelligent and manage up extremely well but don’t manage across their peer networks or down through their teams very well at all. For years they will pull the wool over their senior managers’ eyes and get promoted, eventually getting to a position where they can no longer hide their lack of emotional intelligence. Then people in their teams start leaving or performing at sub-optimal levels as they don’t want to rock the boat, be called out negatively in front others, or risk dealing with the negative behaviours.

Often I hear people and senior leaders complain about the culture. “I can’t stand this culture. There is no respect. These people think I’m an imbecile.” And then I see them turn around an exhibit some of the same behaviours with their teams.

We all need to hold a mirror up in front our faces and ask ourselves are we behaving the way we want our company’s culture to be.

A number of years ago I worked for a manager who was absolutely insane, brilliant but insane. This manager would use expletives to “coach me” on my work. Quickly, I started blocking their number and turning off my phone or simply not answering. My work was just fine, but this manager was so nervous about what the senior leadership may do to them that instead of worrying about the business, this person worried about irrelevant minutia. I learned a lot from this manager by stepping back emotionally and observing them. Through their insanity in detail there was brilliance in their dissection of the business. Of course, I also learned a lot about what not to do as a leader. To be frank, I don’t think I would have ever exercised their negative traits but there were times when their crap invariably rolled downhill.

In the last few years I’ve been lucky to have phenomenal managers who inspire me to work hard and who’ve made it amazing to be part of the team. They genuinely care about their team, our success, and each individual. What is special is that they first see the team members as people and second as employees. Yet they never forget the mission and ensure we all understand our goals and positions on the team and what is expected from each of us. When we fall behind the rest of the team they ask empowering questions, guide and coach us to identify the obstacles and define the plan to work through the obstacles.

Most organizations instantiate values of honesty, respect and dignity in their core values but rarely evaluate people on these values. Mostly people are judged on whether or not they met the profit margins, delivered on the sales objectives, or shipped a product on time and on budget. But how many dead bodies did they create in the process, how many enemies were created, will the people they worked with to get the job done work with them again on the next project?

Ultimately, “you are the culture.” The decisions you make on how you react, coach, discipline, guide your staff, your peers, your management define the culture of your business. Culture begins and ends with you.



One thought on “You Are The Culture

  1. I can empathise with your comments on people who say “you’re too nice”. I am a firm believer of treating people the way you would want to be treated. The best managers I have had over the years are ones that do just that. Nothing is to be gained from shouting and being nasty – that just breeds resentment and doesn’t, in the end, get the job done.
    There’s also those who are firm, but fair, and that works, too. Not rude, not imposing, but firm and respectful with it.
    Respect is earned and not gained by being yelled at – some mix respect and fear. There has been mutual respect with the best people I have ever worked for, creating an open and honest environment where people want to get things done, rather than fear that they have to, and where a coaching style, rather than dictatorial is adopted. It doesn’t breed a namby-pamby culture, it creates a collaborative, respectful working environment, where people enjoy their work and want to continue to work.


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