Culture is the New Leadership

I don’t have to convince most leaders that culture is the number one issue on the business landscape today. For decades, it was management and leadership. They’ve tweaked and updated and reorganized over and over in hopes of smoothing out the rough spots and squeezing incremental performance out of their systems. But leadership principles can only be reinvented so much. Over the years, the returns on those efforts have been steadily diminishing. And little by little, organizations are turning to culture as the new frontier for improving performance.

But here’s the problem. Culture has never really been quantified like the other organizational disciplines we leverage to run our companies. It’s slippery and elusive.

If you thought leadership was difficult to master, try getting your head around a topic that most people can’t even define convincingly.

Ben Ortlip “Culture- The Soul of the Organization”

As a result, the people in charge of our organizations default to something they can fathom a little better — namely leadership. After all, it’s been around long enough that even the average professional can talk the talk. Leadership knowledge has even made its way into the mainstream. You know it’s ubiquitous when the public elementary school in my neighborhood is based entirely on Franklin Covey’s The Leader in Me, a complete system for running a school.

The elementary school where I grew up was based on how you shouldn’t stick gum under your desk. Leadership is everywhere now. You can’t walk past a Marriott ballroom these days without bumping into a motivational speaker preparing to give a keynote on it.

That’s not the case with culture. The typical executive would struggle even to name all the factors that influence culture in his organization. Sure, leaders know a lot about the topic of culture and how it gets reflected in the behaviors, rituals, and personality of a company. But there’s not a disciplined framework that a person can use to build a culture from the ground up.

So let me ask you, can you name all the factors that influence culture in your organization? Do you have a system that enables you to check the status of each one, the way a pilot goes over a checklist prior to take-off? When something goes wrong, can you pinpoint the cause? And provide an efficient remedy? Is your organization practiced at the important skills required to create a safe, successful, and inspiring experience for your people? Or do you kind of wing it?