I spent my first year out of college working at a cell phone store and for a management consulting firm. Both experiences left me deeply aware that there’s often a huge gap between a leader’s glowing review of their corporate culture and the reality on the ground. I would meet with plant managers who insisted that worker safety was their number one priority only to hear stories in the plant of how impossible it was for workers to get steel toed boots. I would meet with leaders who were genuinely convinced their company was the greatest place to work only to find out that the majority of the staff spent the majority of their time sending out resumes.
So, while it’s important to be able to define the culture you’re looking to create in your team or organization, the reality is that simply putting it in writing or being able to talk about it will never get the job done. Leaders must model the culture we want to create.
Paul says it this way, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1). That’s a high calling for any leader to live up to, especially when you add Jesus into the mix! Here’s what I’ve come to understand as a leader – this verse is a self fulfilling prophecy. Your people will follow you in exactly the same manner you follow Christ! So, if your organization struggles with celebrating wins, it’s probably because you struggle with celebrating wins. If your organization frenetically jumps from new idea to new initiative to new plan to change the world, it’s probably because you have the attention span of a fruit fly! For a leader, examining organizational culture is a lot like looking in a mirror. As has often been said, you can teach what you know but you’ll reproduce who you are.
So, leaders, we must ensure that our lives embody the culture we’re trying to create. Two ways to accomplish this:
- Don’t steal someone else’s culture. If you hate change, don’t try to make innovation your competitive advantage. If operating efficiency is your thing, find your advantage by offering the best product at the lowest cost. Know who you are and lead the organization that makes sense for you. One of the most helpful things I heard in planting Restoration City was from Larry Osborne, “Plant the church you’ve always wanted to attend. It’s the only one you’ll be able to lead instinctively.” Here’s how I see it – your best friends should be the least surprised at your church’s culture. They should look at you and your church and say, “Yup. Makes sense to me.”
- Allow people on your team to hold you accountable. If you deviate from the culture, people need to call you on it – and do it quickly before the whole organization follows suit! You’re going to go off the path every once in a while. Make sure there are people in your organization to get you realigned quickly.
It’s as simple as this – organizational culture flows out of leadership culture. People aren’t following the inspirational sayings in your lobby. They’re following your life.