Practice what you preach (or walk the talk)

In our first session together, a new client told me that a strength of his company was that they were not afraid to think outside the box, act differently from their competition, and change and try new things if it was right for the business. When I asked what was holding the business back from operating at peak performance, he told me that their biggest constraint was his personal ability to change, to quit old habits and build new, better ones. The thing on which he prided his company for doing best was the exact thing that he personally did the worst. This, more than anything, would be our focus in his coaching engagement, and it represents a common failure in leadership.

A lack of leadership like that can ultimately lead to a cultural failure in the company. The client in question has Mission and Vision statements. They believe in Core Values. They want to do the “right thing” and train their employees based on what those right things are. But the culture is failing, because it is not being lived out by the company leadership. The owner of the company is not walking the talk and following the culture that he himself is trying to establish.

Ram Charan, the author of The High Potential Leader, says “The culture of any organization is simply the collective behavior of its leaders. If you want to change your culture, change the collective behavior of your leaders.” Company culture is established through leadership, through the collective actions and intentions of its leaders. As the saying goes, “managers do things right, leaders do right things.” People follow leaders, so it is, therefore, the responsibility of leaders to establish the culture, the mindset, and the deeds of the organization.

Building a culture is a process that often takes years to establish, as it starts at the top and needs to funnel through the ranks. It cannot be taught; it must be demonstrated through both words and actions. In order for a culture to take hold, it must permeate the organization. Culture must be reflected in a company's hiring, firing, training, rewarding and disciplining. It must be demonstrated in interactions between coworkers, customers, vendors, and partners. And it should be measurable; the goals an organization sets and the numbers by which that organization measures progress should reflect and represent that organization’s culture.

Building and establishing a meaningful company culture takes time, and work, and lots of hirings, and probably a few firings. It takes trial and error in order to move toward and live into a culture. Most importantly, it takes work at the top. A strong company culture is one that is consistently demonstrated by that company’s leaders. Live out your culture if you want your people to live it out as well.

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