Building and Protecting A Culture

Leaders build and protect the culture of their team. Culture is made up of what your company is on the inside. It is critical that what you are on the inside is different than what is outside.

Outside vs. Inside


Outside, your people are bombarded daily with negative messages. The news and their social feeds are predominantly negative. Your people are continually barraged with news stories designed to create fear, angst, and unrest. The talk of recessions persist years after a recession ended. Stories of loss open every newscast, regardless of medium.

Your people are told that they’re not good enough, that they are somehow broken. They are told that they can’t be more, do more, have more, or contribute more. They are messaged by marketers in ways that drive them to feel as if they are inadequate and incomplete.



You have to have a message that inoculates the people you lead from negativity. Your message has to be optimistic and future-oriented. Inside has to be a place where people feel safer than they feel on the outside. Hope, promise, and possibility needs to live inside your four walls.

Inside, you must have a message to contradict and counteract these infections. A leader sees something in the individuals they lead that they don’t see in themselves, and makes it visible. They see something in a team that the team doesn’t see and brings it to light. A leader sees something in a company that the organization can’t yet see, not only making it visible, but making it possible.

It has to better inside your company than it is outside. You have to create greater certainty and greater psychological safety. You have to create a sense of community and belonging that no longer exists in neighbourhoods. You have to help enable a sense of meaning and purpose that some of your people won’t bring with them, and many won’t find outside.

No one knows if Drucker really said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If he didn’t, I believe he would support the statement—and its ramifications for leaders.

A Culture That Is Safe for Constructive Conflict

Even though they can make some people uncomfortable, disagreements and arguments are a critical part of business. Without disagreements and arguments you get groupthink, and you end up with mediocrity. When you have constructive conflict and disagree about what is right, you get a chance to explore new ideas, even ideas that make some people uncomfortable.

But constructive conflict needs to be done in a way that is safe and beneficial to the organization. “Safe” means it can’t harm the individuals that make up the organisation.


Handling Conflict

Assume good intentions: When someone disagrees with the way something is being done and engages with others around that issue, it is imperative that you assume that person has good intentions. By assuming they have good intentions, you can shift your focus to the value of the idea, instead of evaluating the individual who is brave enough to bring up the idea.

Don’t blame people for mistakes, problems, or challenges: A personal review is something different from constructive conflict, even though it might include some constructive conflict. When you blame the individual for the mistakes, the challenges, or the problems your business is experiencing, you cause people to operate from a place of fear. If you have to operate from fear, you are going to avoid constructive conflict because the repercussions are likely bad for you. Blaming people keeps organizations from solving their deepest problems, and it keeps them from growing.

Focus on generating new ideas, withholding a judgment about any idea: When you do have constructive conflict, it’s easy to dismiss another person’s ideas without giving them a fair hearing. You can very quickly get to all the reasons that something can’t or shouldn’t be done. But this isn’t how you solve problems. You solve problems when you generate new ideas and explore them before you choose one.

The healthiest cultures invite arguments and disagreements. A culture that is strong can withstand the idea of change. There are no sacred cows that must be protected. And every issue is seen as an opportunity to grow, not something to be avoided because egos are too fragile or feelings too easily hurt. Constructive conflict is necessary, and it’s incredibly valuable when done well.

Leaders Communicate the Culture

I was speaking at a conference when the CEO of the company leaned over and whispered in my ear. He said, “I am giving the same speech I’ve given the last two years. The stories are different. The examples are different, too. But it’s the same message.”

The CEO wondered whether he was wrong in doing so, and asked me what I thought. I told him, “Your message was right three years ago. It was right last year. And it’s right this year. As soon as you change your message, your people are going to be confused about who they are and where they are going. You aren’t delivering change. You’re doubling down.”

Great Leaders Relentlessly Communicate Their Message

Mission: Great leaders relentlessly communicate their company’s mission. Those who never speak of “mission,” never capture the hearts and minds of the people they have the honor to lead. Great leaders aren’t afraid to communicate about the difference their organization is making, and they remind their teams of that mission with a steady stream of examples.

Vision is key

Vision: Great leaders also take every opportunity to remind the people they lead where they are going, how they are going to get there, and who they are going to become. They communicate this vision, knowing that they win converts slowly and over time.

Values: A leader leads through her values. What is important to her is important to her organization. What she ignores, they will also ignore. Great leaders draw a line in the sand separating “who we are” from “who we will never be.” I know one leader who refuses to make money from his vendors, money his competitors take. I know another who never stops talking about caring. Their companies live those values.

Who We Are: Effective leaders talk about their competition. They explain to the people they lead how they are different from their competitors, why they do things different, and why it matters. By talking about these things, they help the people they lead understand their place in the world.

As a leader, it is impossible to over- communicate in any of these areas. It is possible to cause people to lose their enthusiasm if you don’t bring these ideas to life with stories, anecdotes, and examples of people getting things right. Your culture is based on actions, but it is also built on words – your words and the vision you create for your people.

A Leader’s Legacy

A leader’s legacy is easily visible. That legacy is the leaders that she has built while she had the responsibility to lead. You can’t be a leader if no one is following you. But the measure of your success as a leader isn’t the raw number of people you lead. Success isn’t measured by what you’ve accomplished with and through the people you have the honor to lead. If you produce outstanding results for your company as a leader and leave it unprepared for the future, you have failed as a leader.

Your legacy is going to be the quality of the people you led, and that is most easily measured in the quality of the leaders you have helped to build.

The best leaders help others realize their potential. A leader sees something inside some of the people they serve that those people often can’t yet see for themselves. One of the ways they build new leaders is by continually giving these high potentials assignments and responsibilities that stretch them. They push the high potential to take on a little more than he is ready to take on. And each time the high potential grows into his role, the leader pushes him into something that once again tests his boundaries.

Great Leaders Share These Traits

A Compelling, Inspiring Purpose and Vision:

If you are going to lead, you are going to have to create followers. So, where are you taking us? Why should we want to go there, and more still, why should I want to go there? A leader provides a clear, compelling vision that inspires others to act. Without that vision, you aren’t a leader; you’re an administrator.

A Burning Desire to Win:

For my money, I want a leader who loves a good fight. I want someone with a fire in their belly and an insatiable desire to win. A leader knows that her organization is competing, maybe against direct competitors, maybe for attention, maybe for donations. A leader can’t be someone who is okay with the losing; they have to hate losing, learn from it, and go back and compete again.

Chess Win

An Unshakeable Optimism:

No one wants to follow a pessimist. No one wants a leader who believes all is lost. That isn’t something a leader can be. A leader can’t be the person who is full of fear and loathing when it comes to the future. Optimism is what allows you to act. A leader recognizes negatives as a burning platform and makes the decisions to move the organization she leads into a better future.

Impatience and a Sense of Urgency:

Leaders know they are playing against a clock. They never believe they have enough time. A number of U.S. Presidents (maybe all of them) have had calendars with the days they have remaining. They know that whatever they are going to get done has to be done now—if not sooner. They have to be impatient for results and lead their organization with a sense of urgency.

An Extraordinary Emotional Intelligence:

There are countless stories about great leaders who were nasty, foul, and completely lacking in emotional intelligence. They are exceptional, not so much as leaders, but in that they are the exception. Great leaders have very high emotional intelligence. They can work a room. They rely on their powers of persuasion and not their formal authority because they know persuasion is more effective. A leader is in the “people business,” and that means they need an extraordinary emotional intelligence.

A Desire to Help Others Grow:

A poor leader from a dominator hierarchy looks at their people as a means to an end. A great leader looks at their people as the end. They focus a good part of their time and attention on helping the people they lead grow and develop. A leader builds future leaders. They pull people up. They nurture people and teach others to do the same. A great leader knows that their legacy is how the organization performs after they are gone.

Great leaders know that they are building a leadership factory. They build leaders who in turn work to build new leaders. They pass on to the leaders they are building all that they have learned, their vision, their mission, and their values. These new leaders do the same, building the next generation of leaders behind them. Creating leaders propels the whole organization forward and helps the organization to reach its full potential–along with all of those within it.

Did you miss?

Part 1- The Do’s & Dont’s?

Part 2The Non-negotiables and Accountability

Part 3Managing People