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Culture Leadership Requires Courage

Many of you have honey in your kitchens. Think for a moment about how honey is created. It starts with worker bees completely and wholeheartedly dedicated to the success of both the hive and the queen bee’s vision. The worker bees trust the queen bee absolutely. Usually, the hive is able to thrive, even in a difficult environment (check out the USDA’s examination of “colony collapse disorder“).

Creating high levels of employee drive and commitment is what makes a culture leader truly effective. Blanchard’s research indicates that when employees trust and respect their leaders, it increases their willingness and commitment to apply their “heads, hearts, and hands” in the service of the company’s goals and values.

Engaging employees’ skills and spirit is complicated by a culture change, because the process of refining an organization’s culture often requires changing embedded structures, services, systems, and even power and control. Trust and respect can be difficult to create or maintain if staff believe they are giving up more than they gain.

Culture Leaders Need to Have the Courage to ASK How Changes Are Perceived

If you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, I’d love for you to), you know that my tweets guide leaders to be more available, more transparent, and more connected to their staff and customers. In the midst of culture refinement, this approach is even more critical. There is nothing worse than a leader who is disconnected from their employee’s experiences, who doesn’t know the frustrations that employees experience trying to get their company’s product or service delivered.

Two proven methodologies can keep leaders connected: truth-tellers and scouts. Truth-tellers are players that the leader trusts to tell the leader the truth – boldly and assertively – about what the buzz is in the organization about policies, practices, changes, etc. Sometimes those truths are not “self-evident.” Sometimes those truths are hard for a leader to hear. Truth-tellers are trusted advisers who can help the leader understand employee perceptions, understand how policies or procedures are viewed, and understand employee frustrations.

Truth-tellers can include direct reports, executive coaches, and even front-line staff who are unafraid to bring the leader their perceptions.

Leaders must have the courage to embrace the information truth-tellers provide, and to modify actions and communications to reflect the reality across their organization. Leaders who “shoot the messenger” – who chastise the truth-teller for telling the truth – will find themselves isolated from reality, getting only “good news” from subordinates who are afraid to tell the truth.

Scouts serve a similar role. Scouts are players dispersed across the organization (literally and figuratively) who are responsible for letting senior leadership team members know the buzz from the front lines. Scouts might be seen as “truth-tellers in training,” because if they do their job well, they earn senior leaders’ trust and respect over time.

These informal yet vital channels help the culture leader stay “in tune” with how staff across the organization see leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions – and if they are aligned with the organization’s stated vision, purpose, and values.

Do You Have the Courage to Learn Everyday?

In a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, actor Garry Shandling was discussing the powerful impact that his acting teacher had on Shandling’s “craft.” Years ago, this teacher asked Shandling, “Do you have the courage to learn something about yourself when the cameras are rolling?”

Effective leaders – and culture leaders, particularly –  have the courage to learn something about themselves while they are actively guiding the efforts of organizational members.

To increase your leadership effectiveness, seek the truth and modify your organization’s practices to align with it’s espoused vision, purpose, and values.


Subscribe to Chris’ mobile updates, texted right to your smartphone! Text VALUES to 72000 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


vimeo_logoChris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips are also available on Vimeo. Subscribe to Chris’ Vimeo channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Ooops! Atoning for A Mistake

Ever made a mistake at work? No? Then you’re one of the few, lucky players. I’ve made some really big ones in my career, but I’ve tried to not make the same mistake twice.

Years ago I was delivering a culture keynote, twice in back-to-back sessions. The client was a sales group and, to prepare, I had done some research on their organization. Their company had been fined a year before for what was described as an “ethical lapse.” I thought that I might refer to this  lapse when we discussed values alignment during my program.

The first session went beautifully with participants delving into discussions and sharing insights about our culture change process. They welcomed the chance to look at the past year’s issue from the perspective of how potential customers or employees might think of their organization’s values.

The second session was going equally well . . . until I raised the issue of the “ethical lapse.” The reaction was powerful and immediate. Participants told me that raising that issue was unfair, they had moved past it, and they were not at all interested in looking at it any further. The success of the first session’s discussion gave me confidence to push them harder to apply learnings from the lapse. It blew up in my face! They left my session, right then and there, en masse.

I was totally surprised at their reaction AND I knew I had wrongly discounted their initial reaction. If I had read that resistance more effectively, I could easily have moved to another example to make my point. I didn’t do that, and left them no alternative (from their perspective).

I apologized to the client (who had observed both sessions). I immediately contacted the salesperson to let them know what happened. After the salesperson discussed the situation with the main client contact, we agreed to not charge the client for any of my services that day. It was the right thing to do in this circumstance.

It was an expensive lesson. I’ve never made that mistake again – and believe that I am a much better “listener” and “reader” of my audiences because of that mistake.

Mistakes can happen when:

  • we underestimate the time necessary to deliver what was promised,
  • we overestimate our expertise to deliver what was promised,
  • we discount the reality around us (this is what happened to me in the scenario above),
  • we’re trying brand new solutions to a problem, or
  • we’re not fully present when working on the goal or task.

When mistakes are made when you are blazing new trails, they’re part of the learning process. Those aren’t the type of mistakes that we’re discussing here.

Once a mistake is made, the temptation to “cover it up” can be great. The best solution is to, as quickly as possible, share what happened and what you plan to do to address the situation.

You may have to negotiate for more time, or, if that’s not possible, you may have to spend the required time to meet the deadline with a high quality product or service. This kind of resolution can make for long nights – but it’s the right thing to do.

You may have to cover costs of your mistake – maybe not you personally but your team or department may have to take the hit.

Your mistake may cost others time, energy, and even reputation – that’s why you must “come clean” as soon as possible, and rectify your mistake as soon as possible.

Team members value honesty and integrity from their peers. Mistakes will be made. Do the right thing to explain the situation, describe your plan to address it, and then deliver on that plan.


Subscribe to Chris’ mobile updates, texted right to your smartphone! Text VALUES to 72000 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


vimeo_logoChris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips are also available on Vimeo. Subscribe to Chris’ Vimeo channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Learnings from W.L. Gore: Compensate for Contribution

In 1995 I was invited to join a design team, charged with 1) examining how the Ken Blanchard Cos. operates and 2) facilitating large company meetings to build consensus and inspire action to make agreed to refinements. The project took 14 months of hard work. It was a tremendous learning experience with my five design team colleagues, and absolutely made me a better consultant!

One of the companies we studied was W.L. Gore, widely regarded as one of the best companies on the planet to work for. Best known for Gore-Tex – though most of their revenue comes from medical devices and medical clean room technology – today Gore is a $2.4billion global business with just over 8,000 associates.

Design team members were fascinated with many of the aspects of Gore’s culture and business (it was hard to differentiate between them, which is a big reason why the company is so highly regarded). Three of their approaches stand out to me, now 15 years later:

  1. They have a very flat organization, with no hierarchy or formal bosses. Founder Bill Gore called it a “lattice organization,” where committed, competent people worked with each other to create products that solve customer problems. They didn’t need a “boss” to direct their work.
  2. They keep facilities small to enable employee connections and employee influence of decisions and actions. Typically when a facility (which usually combines sales, R&D, and manufacturing) reaches 300 associates, they begin planning to split the facility into two smaller facilities. Why? Bill Gore said that once you reach 300 people on a site, you lose personal connections. The Gore culture highly values employee involvement, and smaller facilities helps that happen.
  3. They separate compensation from contribution. Associates are ranked by their peers for their contributions, and compensation is based upon the company’s success that fiscal year and on the associate’s ranking.

To learn more about the W.L. Gore company, please read WSJ’s Gary Hamel’s excellent two-part interview with Gore CEO Terri Kelly and the Great Place to Work Institute‘s overview of Gore, a 2009 “Great Place to Work” award winner.

A recent conversation with a client refreshed my memory of Gore’s unique compensation approach. The client’s organization had a classic performance appraisal structure, where employees were placed in a normal distribution of performance rankings. She has five exceptional performers across her 10-person team, yet because of the normal distribution, only ONE of those exceptional performers would be granted a “five out of five” rating. The “5 star” ranked players receive the greatest pay increase. “It’s so frustrating,” she related. “Why should four of my five great performers have their contribution capped because of this stupid system?!?”

I shared Gore’s successful approach of separating compensation from contribution. I explained that every associate at Gore is expected to commit to projects and goals, and to contribute to the company’s success by delivering on their commitments. Annually, their contribution is ranked by associates and compensation decreed by a cross-functional committee. My client loved the idea – but wasn’t sure if her company would consider such a significant shift in their compensation plan.

Many companies are tied to this antiquated approach that ties compensation to a normal distribution. But consider this: can you imagine how much greater performance and higher employee work passion would result if you had a team of all “A+” performers? You can – by separating compensation from contribution.

Evaluate employee contribution FIRST – let them know where they stand compared to benchmark performers. Give them a contribution ranking on a 1-10 or 1-5 scale. THEN explain, given the company’s recent fiscal year performance, how their contribution ranking translates into the upcoming year’s compensation plan.

You know, this just might work!


Subscribe to Chris’ mobile updates, texted right to your smartphone! Text VALUES to 72000 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


vimeo_logoChris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips are also available on Vimeo. Subscribe to Chris’ Vimeo channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Changing Habits to Enable Culture Change

In a recent session with a client’s senior leadership team, the group finalized the “ready to share” draft of their organization’s desired purpose, values, and valued behaviors. This process is a lot of hard work; they stuck with it and developed a very solid statement.

Once they publish this purpose, values, and behaviors statement, expectations and scrutiny from all staff will increase; this team understands that. As we finished the day, I explained the best practices for them, as senior leaders, to emphasize BOTH performance and values with their direct reports. I described how, in day to day conversations, during field visits, etc. these leaders must change the way they discuss expectations with their staff. “You do not need to spend more time with your staff at this stage, but you do need to change what you discuss and what you emphasize with them,” I said.

I asked one member of the team who is responsible for field operations to serve as an example. He typically spends 2+ hours on field visits meeting with facility managers. I explained,”You must shift your focus with that facility manager from primarily discussing performance metrics and opportunities to balancing performance discussions with how well they and their site leaders demonstrate and reinforce the organization’s desired values.” The blood drained from his face – he said,“I don’t think I can do that! I’ve been doing these meetings the same way for years – I wouldn’t know how to change them.”

Refining Behaviors to Emphasize Values

Typically leaders have well-developed habits for managing staff and expectations. Some of those habits serve them well – and some don’t. During a culture change initiative, leaders need to:

  1. clarify and share specific expectations (as this team is doing with their newly defined purpose, values, and behaviors), and
  2. demonstrate commitment to the purpose, values, and behaviors by acting on them and emphasizing them consistently.

If a leader’s current habits are not developing a values-aligned organization, he or she must change daily practices through development of new habits. Desired habits will enable  leaders to live the espoused values of the organization and to coach and celebrate others doing so each day. Changing daily practices is about creating new habits: clarify desired practices, evaluate current practices, then close those gaps! Research says that developing new habits requires demonstration of new behaviors for 21 days – no time like the present to start!

One suggestion: consider finding a mentor or coach who can help you understand how others perceive you, whether you are being consistent with values-aligned behaviors, etc.

What NOT to Do is as Important as What TO Do

Like the senior leader who told me this week, “I don’t think I can do that!,” identifying how to more effectively lead a values-aligned culture requires a conscious strategy of deciding what NOT to do . . . which will enable time to DO the important things required of the servant leader. One of our most successful culture clients told me, “There is NOTHING more important for me to do than to talk about and reinforce our desired culture!” Early in their change process he spent about two hours per week focused on their desired culture; as the process evolved over a year, he found he spent about 10 hours per week proactively managing their desired culture. He certainly watched key performance metrics but did not micromanage them.

With dedicated effort, your new habits will be comfortable and will generate immense synergy in your organization with a balanced focus on performance and values.


Subscribe to Chris’ mobile updates, texted right to your smartphone! Text VALUES to 72000 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


vimeo_logoChris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips are also available on Vimeo. Subscribe to Chris’ Vimeo channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

New Managers: Three Keys to Success

So you’re a new manager, eh? Congratulations – this role can be one of the most gratifying of your career! Or, it can be a very frustrating experience. We don’t want that, so let me offer some advice from over 35 years of working with effective leaders. Grab a latte and let’s talk.

Who Are You?

First you need to understand yourself thoroughly. Answering these questions will help clarify who you are as a person and as a leader.

  1. What is your life’s purpose? What are you striving for, to serve whom, and to what end? Here is my purpose statement: “To use my expertise and passion to inspire and encourage leaders to clarify their personal values and lead with authenticity.” Feel free to use my statement as a template for yours.
    Realize that this initial step will take a bit of time, a bit of wordsmithing, and a bit of testing. Once you’ve drafted your purpose statement, share it with people you trust – family, friends, co-workers. Ask them if it rings true, based on what they know of you. Listen and refine.
  2. What are the values that guide your plans, decisions, and actions every day? Effective values statements include the value’s definition and behaviors that describe how you’re acting when you demonstrate your values. My values and definitions are listed below. Note that your values will likely be much different than mine – and you can use mine as a template. Then, share it, listen and refine.
    • Integrity – do what I say I will do, keep my commitments, act on my values, so I may “hold my head high” at the end of each day.
    • Learning – scan the environment for current research and discoveries that can enlighten me, my colleagues, and my program participants.
    • Joy – celebrate the pleasure derived from doing work I’m good at and enjoy with interesting, willing learners, and bask in the core grace I feel when helping others grow.
    • Perfection – deliver what I promise so that objectives are exceeded, clients and partners are wowed, and continuously sharpen the saw so future results are better than today’s.
  3. What are your beliefs about leading and motivating people? These beliefs will flow naturally from reflection about the people who have influenced you in your past and from your purpose & values. If, for example, you believe that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things when goals are clear and leaders serve followers’ needs, you’re on the road to effective leadership.

The vital question when you are done with this first phase is, “Will you be a servant leader or a self-serving leader?” You’ll be one or the other. If you’ve clarified your purpose, values, and beliefs, our research indicates that servant leadership more frequently results.

Clear Agreements

You want your people to understand what they can expect of you and what you expect of them. First, share your purpose and values with your direct reports; your leadership philosophy is heavily influenced by your purpose, values, and beliefs. Then, share specific performance expectations, and formalize standards, deadlines, and outcomes so there is a clear definition of what “A+” work looks like.

These clear agreements help staff understand the standards you require. Letting people know what you expect of them underscores that effective leadership is a partnership.

Partner for Performance

Leadership isn’t something you do TO followers, it is what you do WITH them. With expectations clear, you now must assess what staff bring to the work. Are they learners or doers? You must teach and guide learners, and support and challenge doers. Adapt your leader behaviors to your follower’s task-specific needs.

Most importantly, stay connected, meeting one-on-one weekly to gauge goal traction, celebrate progress, and redirect if needed. Keep an eye on goals and tasks, as they typically evolve over time with changing requirements and customer needs. Regularly ask each direct report, “How can I help?,” then listen and respond.

New managers, follow these three steps, and you’ll build a trusting partnership with staff who perform well and love what they do.


Subscribe to Chris’ mobile updates, texted right to your smartphone! Text VALUES to 72000 or head here.


Chris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips can be found on YouTube. Subscribe to Chris’ YouTube channel.


vimeo_logoChris’ new “Culture Leadership Charge” series and the rest of his video clips are also available on Vimeo. Subscribe to Chris’ Vimeo channel.


podcast_subscribeSubscribe to Chris’ posts via RSS.


itunes_subscribeListen to or subscribe to over 300 of Chris’ Culture Leadership Podcasts on iTunes.


The music heard on Chris’ podcasts is from one of his songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2017 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). He played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Chris will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, Chris only recommend products or services he uses personally and believes will add value to his readers. Chris is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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