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It All Begins with the Leader. Part 3

Culture will devour the best Leader Direction Statements (LDS) such as vision and mission statements, core values, leader credo, etc. Adapted from my friend John Maxwell’s writings, the message is simple. It doesn’t matter how well the organization’s direction statements read if the leader has not made it clear the kind of culture they expect. If left incomplete, then even the best written LDS and best employees may struggle to be effective. Answer the following statement with true or false.

Everyone comes to the workplace with cultural norms and behaviors.

In my workshops, there is always a resounding, TRUE!

The challenge for leaders is to discern whether the employees’ norms and behaviors match that expected of the organization. That’s why it is ESSENTIAL for leaders to be CLEAR as to the culture expected in their organization.

It should come as no surprise that it is the LEADER and the LEADERSHIP TEAM who has the responsibility to set the culture and ensure that their own behavior supports it. This means that the leaders must make it clear the kind of culture that is expected.

For me and high performing enterprises that I’ve worked the culture expected was a culture of…EXCELLENCE. It goes without saying that the leader MUST be clear on what this means as well. Likewise, the leader MUST KNOW – REALLY KNOW – what it means to have a culture of excellence.

So, what is a culture of excellence?

One way to answer the question is to consider the alternatives.

I often ask students in my classes or clients that I coach, what are the alternatives or polar-opposites a culture of excellence?

My students and clients easily identify that it would be a culture of mediocrity, a culture of indifference, disengagement, just-get-by-tiveness, a culture of getting mine before you get your-tivness, etc. I think most would agree that they would NOT do business (think pay for services or products, taxes, etc.) with an organization that possesses a culture like these alternatives to excellence.

I think most would agree that they would NOT do business (think pay for services or products, taxes, etc.) with an organization that possesses a culture like these ALTERNATIVES to EXCELLENCE.

Some leaders have indicated that they shouldn’t have to state the culture and that employees should be intrinsically motivated with such an inner drive. Well, sure, that’d be nice. But, the leaders who leave this to chance may find themselves in more corrective roles (sometimes causing the leader to believe this is indeed their job, directive vs. collaborative, transactional vs. transformational, etc.), doing more disciplinary work than necessary (regretfully, so will their direct reports, UGH!). These leaders seem to be more “LUCKY than GOOD” at what they do and spend less time with the strong performers.

Why leave setting the culture to chance?

In my experience at the executive AND frontline supervisory levels, employees of organizations whose leaders did not make clear made up a culture on their own. Regretfully, this was often unknown to the leaders who wondered why they weren’t getting the results they expected. It was ugly at the frontline. People who wanted to do well were ridiculed by those who were actively disengaged. The actively disengaged would say things like,”why are you trying so hard?” and “slow down or they’ll give us more to do.”

If it is not clear the kind of culture YOU expect (AND STATE IT…MORE THAN ONCE) then you may find yourself disappointed. Unless that is, you have employees who are good at managing you (think, managing up, managing your boss, keeping your bosses boss off your boss’s back, etc.). The leader who leaves to chance the development of an organizational culture can easily find themselves disappointed that the middle, and Middleship™ methods, tools, and techniques, in my book fall flat and sluggish in execution. NOT GOOD.

Think about it.

Would you hire an organization or enjoy paying taxes to an agency that boasted a culture of mediocrity? I doubt it.

What is and how to adopt a culture of excellence will be covered in my book. For now, it is important to recognize that leaders MUST ensure that the culture they expect is CLEAR. Otherwise, even the best of performance programs will struggle to succeed.

Have you worked with or for an organization that did a GREAT job of making the culture clear? I’d love to hear about it so feel free to post a comment.

Your friend,


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