Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
October 2014   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Culture and People

Looking back on my leadership career, there were two things I focused on that contributed the most to building strong teams: I tried to get the people and the culture right. I have often remarked that in part, I made a good career out of making the tough decisions about people that others often avoided.

Get people and culture right and everything else, including performance, comes so much more readily. When these are not working meaningful change is virtually impossible. Over ten years now, working with a wide variety of clients as a teacher, speaker and coach, has only affirmed the power of people and culture in every organization.

Assessing people and culture always started on day one, as I observed the way people did things. I needed to know who would contribute to a positive culture and who would not. I needed to know which facets of culture were holding us back. People and culture are closely connected: culture is only a composite of the way individuals behave as they seek to fit in by adopting the ways of the group. At one newspaper, people needed to get more competitive. Losing clients without putting up a fight had become their way of doing things.

We are who we are. Character, defined as that which we do repeatedly, is very difficult difficult to change. Culture, best defined as the unique way a group of people does things, can also be difficult to change even when the need for change seems obvious. People are used to doing things the way they've always been done. This is why leaders must put energy into the change effort.

Culture can bring out the best and worst in a group - its a powerful force. This is why good leaders assess the culture they have, set standards for improving it and then personally lead the change. As the culture improves it begins to motivate the right behaviours and attract the right people. When the wrong people - those who won't contribute to team life in a positive way – don't heed the call to change they must go. One person, one situation at a time culture begins to change for the better.

Not surprisingly all strong cultures share similar characteristics. In strong healthy cultures, people support one another, they put the team ahead of personal interests, they work hard and care about quality, they value challenge and achievement. They know how to have their say and accept direction when a decision is made. This is certainly not an exhaustive or complete list but it does I trust illuminate what I mean when I talk about culture as a group's way of doing things.

Each team has its own culture. Each has its unique opportunities for improvement. The most effective leaders look for these opportunities.

An important key to change is the leader's personal example. A leader who says he or she wants people to treat each other respectfully or work hard, must first demonstrate these standards personally day in and day out, or invite cynicism.

Now an important cautionary note. There is risk in attempting culture change. When a leader describes the need for change and shares his or her vision for a better culture, the right people get hopeful. Hope is powerful force. There are few things that can produce bigger setbacks than hope failed, so if you decide to lead culture change, make sure you are determined to see it through. For more on culture change, check out my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Recall a weak culture you were involved in. How did it limit the organization?
  2. Think about the team you lead today, what are its cultural strengths and weaknesses?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
October 2014   |   By Dan Gaynor


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Ralphie and the Strategic Approach, Dec. 2014

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