I'm sure you've heard, once or twice, that "culture eats strategy for breakfast." The idea behind this overused corporate-speak has a hard prerequisite: finding and developing human-centered leaders with an eye on putting people first. 

The link between great people leaders and culture is critical because leaders define the culture and embody its elements. Put bad leaders in place and you'll have a bad culture.

Truth is, you can have the best strategy in the world, but a negative culture prevents strategy execution. That's why culture eats strategy for breakfast.

These great people leaders are champions, protectors, and "caretakers of the culture." Because they know it matters for competitive advantage. What exactly do they do differently? 

Here's what you will visibly see in action, day in and day out.

1. They bring their whole selves to work.

In Chief Joy Officer, author Rich Sheridan, the CEO and Chief Storyteller of Menlo Innovations, challenges us to stop wearing masks and be the same person we are home, also at work. He writes, "The 'living lie' culture of workplaces is often rooted in the idea that what is happening outside of work must be compartmentalized and denied in order to be seen as the perfect employee or boss at work." He adds, "to develop ourselves as leaders we need to bring ourselves to work. Our whole selves, trouble and all."

2. They play for the team.

Leaders that forge ahead with a win-at-all-costs agenda at the benefit of some and the expense of others will quickly create silos, alienate people, and lose the respect of the whole. Caretakers of great company cultures don't seek the glory or take the credit; they empower their people to do all the work, brainstorm solutions that add value and benefit the whole team, and give the team all the glory after a great effort. 

3. Their primary motive is to serve.

In Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and ResultsRaj Sisodia writes: "A leader who operates with a primary emphasis on self-interest naturally views other people as a means to that end. You cannot be a true leader if you operate at that level of consciousness. Selfless does not mean eradicating the ego...it is about harnessing the ego in healthy ways. As the Dalai Lama has said, '[W]e must make sure it is a serving ego and not a deserving ego.'

4. They believe in their people.

In a conversation with Rolling Stone magazine in one of the lowest points of his career, Steve Jobs said: "What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them." As Jobs evolved as a leader, he demonstrated increasing faith in his employees. As protectors of the culture, you adopt a "trust first" mindset before trust is earned because you accept and believe in your employees' abilities to use their brains and talents to create and innovate.

5. They facilitate a shared purpose. 

Leaders in high-performing company cultures communicate an image of the future that draws people in--that speaks to what team members are seeing and feeling. They give their team members a clear destination so that people know where they're headed at all times. They also give their people a purpose that answers the question, "Why do we do the work we do?" When that question is answered consistently, people know what greater good they serve, and that ultimately keeps them focused on the end goal. Finally, they make sure that teams align through shared values--the very principles that guided a team's decisions and actions on their daily journey. With these three components clearly defined, a tremendous amount of energy, passion, and productivity is unleashed.

Published on: Apr 16, 2019
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