This is an article about culture and leadership -- and about cliches that turn out to be true.

It starts with the top military officer overseeing the U.S. Navy  SEALs, Rear Admiral Collin Green, who is leading a military force in crisis after some very troubling allegations.   

Among them: an alleged sexual assault, an entire SEAL platoon reportedly sent home to the U.S. from a deployment for misconduct (Green fired the entire SEAL Team's leadership afterward), and even a Navy SEAL who admitted in a court case that he'd killed a wounded prisoner.  

I've been thinking about Admiral Green and the SEALs for a while now. I wrote an article yesterday about what's going on with them.

And as I wrote, an old saying came to mind: "I write because I'm not sure what I think until I've written it down." (A version of this is attributed to the novelist Flannery O'Connor.)

In short, I had a "suddenly, I get it" moment, about the importance of building a great culture if you want to be a great leader. It's right there in what Green says he's trying to do to fix the SEALs.

It's also one of those business truisms that we hear over and over, yes, to the point of cliche: Building a great culture matters most, if you want to be a great leader.

My colleague Chris Matyszczyk, by coincidence, also wrote yesterday about what the chief financial at Delta Air Lines says helps his airline get more bang for the buck when it raises employee pay (Delta just announced a 4 percent raise).

No surprise: culture. As Chris quotes Delta CFO Paul Jacobson:

"Culture is not something you put on a memo and dictate to the organization that this will be our culture. Culture is ultimately what's borne out of the values of the company. And as we focused on serving others and we focused on serving each other that's where the culture is born."

I could go on, filling the rest of this column with quote after quote from iconic business leaders talking about the importance of culture.

I know you've heard this, too. It's easy to become skeptical, because we've also known leaders who talk a good game but who don't follow through. Yet, some things are cliches because they're the truth.

What motivates any of us? Is it money, or prestige, or sex, or power?

All of those things, sure, but if you want to encourage a large team to accomplish a specific goal, you need to find a way to make them actually want to achieve it.

In short, you need to build the culture.

Maybe none of this is news to you. Maybe it's how you strive to act as a leader. If so, fantastic. You're way ahead of many people. 

For me, it's finally sinking in. When we separate the great leaders from everyone else, a key difference is whether they truly believe in building great culture.

Published on: Sep 9, 2019
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