Three attributes needed to help change a culture

A book comes out tomorrow that I’m looking forward to reading. It caught my interest because it defines concepts that sound eerily similar to my management style, which is based on my Native American values and principles.

I read about it in an article tweeted out Saturday by The New York Times. The book by “Corner Office” columnist Adam Bryant is titled, “Quick and Nimble: Lessons From Leading C.E.O.’s on How to Create a Culture of Innovation.”

I have often viewed the places I’ve worked as a village, influenced by a distinct culture. The organization follows a set of standards, but it’s the unwritten rules that define the workplace environment. And when transformation is necessary to move a company forward, changing the culture can be one of the greatest obstacles.

Bryant said he conducted hundreds of interviews with top executives and found some patterns in what it takes to foster an effective culture that helps drive innovation.

Among those patterns is something Bryant calls “Rules of the Road.” These are guidelines for behavior that can help employees focus on the job at hand, rather than on office politics.

Chief among those guidelines is respect.

When setting organizational ground rules, I’ve openly stated that I expect each member of the group to treat others with respect. That’s not only a key management principle; it’s a value that’s taught among my Ho-Chunk people and many other tribes. It’s central to how we navigate life.

I was astonished, in a good way, when Bryant quoted Mark Templeton, chief executive of Citrix, a technology company, as saying his workplace culture is based on respect, integrity and humility.

Thank you, Mark Templeton, for articulating the three basic attributes that all leaders should strive for, and set as examples for their staffs.

Too often, the corner office belongs to those who may have the skills and talent to be successful, but lack one or more of the three characteristics. These attributes would help leaders connect with their employees in a genuine way. That kind of connection could be the difference between changing a culture and remaining stagnant.

Of the three, humility is by far the one attribute I’ve rarely seen in mainstream society. Yet it is something that is highly prized in my Ho-Chunk culture.

Many people seem to equate humility with low self-esteem. I view it as knowing the truth about one’s self. Just like everyone else, I have extraordinary talents and enormous flaws. Taking time each day to recognize those truths about ourselves should make us humble. When we understand that we are equal in the eyes of the Creator, we can have compassion and understanding for each other. And when we know our strengths and weaknesses, we can try to build on our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.

In the workplace, humility allows us to relate to each other with authenticity. And as managers, it motivates us to seek out the strengths that people bring to their jobs so we can help them work that muscle.

Of the three characteristics, integrity is most important to me as a journalist. We are only as good as our word, and our word must be truthful, trusted and accurate. When we are wrong, we need to admit it. The mark of a true journalist is one who strives to exemplify integrity outside the workplace as well. It’s is a great ethic for all leaders to possess.

In all, Bryant outlines six key drivers in his new book on building an effective workplace culture. I’m always looking to sharpen my leadership tools. Next to the “Visual Quickstart Guide for WordPress,” this will be my second how-to book of 2014.


Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.


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