Org Culture Part 2

I look at ‘culture’ as our underlying reasons for doing things, and I view ‘social’ expression as our conventional ways of doing things — the behaviors that are observable and express the values and norms that underlie action.  Hence, the culture of an organization is revealed through the behaviors and conversations that occur within that organization.

Mostly, the ‘culture’ of an organization “just happens.”  A group of people get together to create something and they begin working on that ‘something.’  The norms and values that inform beliefs and the rules that establish and regulate behavior are, largely, invisible and unremarked.

Sometimes, when new programs or organizations form, the individuals involved take the time to build the foundation of their organization and have conversations about their values, their vision and their mission; as well as their guidelines for working together.  In doing so, they are creating a common ground for all who participate.  They are weaving a story for their ‘reason for being’ based upon their shared values and vision.  The long-term impact of doing this early, conscious work, is cultural resonance – clarity of intention, clarity of expectations, and clarity of doing the work.

Without doing the work of creating a shared story, and shared meanings, the potential for conflict and misunderstandings is high. A sense of discomfort, discord, disharmony is too often experienced by people, especially during times of stress, transition, and change.  This happens as a result of not having something to grasp onto when unexpected and unexplained change occurs.  Breakdowns in communication, and misunderstanding of expectations, occur regularly, leading people to ask questions such as, “Why am I here?”  “What impact am I making and for whom?”

I wonder as you read this:

  • what questions do you have about your own workplace? 
  • What conversations do feel are missing? 
  • What conversations are you having that lead to a stronger sense of belonging?
  • How would you transform a mood of dissonance in your organizations and your teams to a mood of resonance?

Org Culture Part 1

Twenty-five years ago, when I began my work with leaders and teams in organizations; if, in the context of a conversation, people used the word ‘culture,’ they were almost always talking about other nations, other peoples, in other places. Most left conversations about ‘culture’ to anthropologists, because that was, and still is, a major part of their field of study.

Being an anthropologist by academic training, I would always ask leaders to describe their ‘culture’ to me.  Mostly I was met with blank stares.  “What do you mean?” they would ask. “Do we have a culture?”  Internally, I would chuckle.  “Of course your organization has a culture.”  Externally, I knew better and asked questions so that, together, we would learn about that leader’s organizational culture.  I would ask about the norms of the organization and about the values that govern them.  I wanted to know about the ways that decisions are made; the ways that they choose their clients; the ways that they hold conversations to get to results.  Mostly, I wanted to understand what motivated the direction of their organization so that I could understand their ‘culture’ of work and of doing business.

Now, twenty-five years later, I still do the same.

I believe that leaders in any organization need to understand the culture that drives the ways people work together: the ways that decisions are being made; the shared beliefs that ‘dictate’ “appropriate” behaviors; and the patterns of communication that characterize any group that works together no matter what size. It is the culture of common understanding and commitment that ultimately is the foundation for the mission of any organization.

Culture is what binds us together as people. Culture is the way of life/work of a group of people, their belief system, their values, the symbols that they take on and make their own.

  • I wonder if you can describe your team’s culture?  Your organization’s norms and values and beliefs?
  • Are you aligned with your organization’s values?
  • What makes it important for leaders to understand their organizational culture?
  • What’s the impact of knowing or not knowing what motivates the behaviors and decisions of your organization’s leadership?

How Do We Say What We Are Saying - Without Using Words?

Strolling in an open-air arts-market on the Seine, I stopped in front of a stall with paintings that captured my imagination.  I stood, quietly, alone, just me, in silence, when I heard the voice of the painter, whom I hadn’t noticed sitting on a chair, saying to me: “I am not a dreamer.”

I was surprised and curious about what she said.  I was even more curious about what made her say that?  What in my silent gesture made her think that I perceived her a dreamer?

This little interaction, took me spinning in explorations of perceptions about perceptions about perceptions.

I could not tell you why she said that to me, because even though we spoke for a few minutes, my French is limited and so was her English.  I tried to get to the essence of it, and am not satisfied that I did.  So, I let the need to know what made her say to me, “I am not a dreamer” go.

Instead, I am living in the question, “How are we saying what we are saying, when we are not using words?”

Leadership Is A Profession

Being called upon to lead teams is increasingly common in all organizations today. Yet success in leading teams does not happen by itself. Everyone knows that leading teams effectively does not happen over night.  Those who have been moved ‘up the ladder’ into managerial positions from being individual contributors or subject matter experts, often find themselves totally and completely unprepared for the job of leading others.  This is because they simply do not know how to do the job of leading.  And why should they?  Leading others is not the profession for which they have been educated or trained.

I often wonder about ‘leadership’ and the ways that organizations typically select their managers.  It appears that as a person excels in their own area of expertise they often become a candidate for moving up in the organization; and ‘up,’ generally means – management, which demands its own very specific skill set.

Would you hire a chemist to be a carpenter?

I believe we are not paying attention to the fact that leadership is a profession. It is not an add-on. It does not happen by promotion. It requires skill, discipline, training, understanding and commitment.

In a world in which leaders are increasingly required to engage and enroll others in work and align the workforce with the mission of their organization, the need to be aware, intentional, and strategic about how leaders communicate becomes crucial to achieving results and accomplishing goals.

To become an effective leader, an individual needs to be educated in the many ‘arts’ of leading people, including the arts of:

  • Creating Clarity
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Building Community,
  • And, from this foundation, the art of Getting to Results

A Fresh Take On Accountability

It seems that everyone today wants to talk about accountability.  Not a week goes by when a leader or a team does not ask, “How can I make people accountable?”  “How do I make sure that everyone does their work and takes ownership?”

Sometimes, I wonder when they ask this, “What do they mean by accountability?”  Oftentimes, I believe that the distinction between accountability and compliance is not always clear to those who ask.  I get the sense that, for many, being accountable is basically getting the work done in the way that the boss wants them to get the work done.  That, to me, is being reliable and competent — qualities that might be a part of being accountable.

When I think of accountability, I think of shared responsibility. I think of mutual commitment. I think of common purpose and managed expectations.  I imagine people taking ownership.  I imagine the language that people use reflecting the sense that everyone is in this together —  “we” rather then “they;” “ours,” rather then “theirs.”

I imagine people asking, “What can we do?” rather than, “What can you do?” I don’t see any finger pointing or people blaming each other when expectations are not met.  Everyone rolls up their sleeves and contributes as the situation demands.  Like the CEO who helps set up the room for a large meeting, or a director of a large office helping crunch numbers with their administrative staff, or a president of an organization making coffee for everyone when they all have to burn the midnight oil to meet deadlines.

So much has been written about accountability – the dimensions of…, the principles of…, the characteristics of…, and on and on.  So, why do we not yet have all the answers?

Perhaps we are not asking the right questions.  Perhaps the questions ought to be more like: “What am I doing that does not promote accountability in others?”; or, “How am I showing up as a leader to make others not follow me?”

In my mind, the path to accountability is a very simple road to map. I believe accountability is the direct outcome of care. It is a natural product of leading with authenticity and genuine engagement that inspires care and commitment.

Perhaps we should be asking: “Am I sharing a compelling story — one that others will care about and would want to fully participate in?”

Your Boss Is Human

What if you knew what your CEO has to “leave behind” in order to ”show up’” at work. Imagine if you knew what motivates your boss, what engages her/him, what concerns they have. What if you knew what makes your boss feel supported; or, what she really cares about; or what he actually needs?

If you knew more about these dimensions of your work colleagues, I am absolutely convinced that your work environment and your work experience would be enhanced and would expand in many different directions. I am sure that your own leadership journey would become more meaningful with more possibilities and opportunities for growth and learning.

I believe that the job of all leaders is to get to know those who surround them, including their own leaders.

On the one hand, this is very easy to do. It just requires asking questions: open-ended questions; questions for understanding and for knowing; questions that move conversations forward.

On the other hand, it can also be extremely challenging. Because, in order to really get to know those who surround you at work, including your bosses, you MUST WANT TO. You must actually want to get to know your bosses and your leaders and your colleagues and your staff. If you truly do not care to know about others, faking it won’t work. In all that you do in building relationships, it is essential to be authentic.

So, do you want to get to know your boss, your colleague, your staff? If you do, what are you doing to make it happen?

Without Effective Listening - Listening Loses Effect

The way that I see this, is that through talking we carve the direction.  And, through listening we create the space from which understanding occurs.

Hence, when I think of leadership it occurs to me  that effective leadership is the manifestation of ‘direction with understanding.’ 

Making space for listening is what allows the inner dimensions of listening to arise. Working from the insight that the only thing that liberates and encourages people’s capacity to listen is the experience of being listened to and being heard themselves, as well as having the intention and the care to understand the other.

Inner Dimensions Of Listening

It occurs to me that one of the main reasons that I focus on the area of listening is because I see so much suffering and needless misunderstanding in our world and in day-to-day life. How often have you heard it said, or have said to yourself: “Is anyone listening?” On the subway, in political conversations, in the media, in schools, at work, in families — everyone is talking, but who is listening?

We are taught how to speak from the moment we are born. We are educated to speak well and are rewarded for it. But, no one gives us any instructions about listening – certainly not in elementary school or High School.  In most cases, we are told to listen but not truly taught how to listen.  We say and hear the following:

  • Listen to me.
  • Look at me when I am talking to you.
  • You are not listening to me.
  • You can’t talk and listen at the same time.

Because of this, we have grown into patterns of communicating which are fundamentally based on talking. Typically, listening is backgrounded in conversation and is mainly used to gather clues for what to say next. The emphasis in our mental focus is in forming talk. The result is: we are constantly talking to each other yet rarely listening. And, what listening we do practice is, effectively, a servant of our talking.

Yet, listening is THE essential element of communication. It is more important than any other element of communication in creating understanding. Listening is, especially, an essential part of successful leadership. Without effective listening, leadership loses effect.

Listening As Receiving

Try this simple exercise:

The next time you are in conversation, suspend, just for a moment, any expectation you have in your listening. Your simple letting go of that one thing for one moment will produce an effect.  Try it a few times and you’ll see.  When you listen with expectation, you “meet” the other with your expectation. It is like a gesture saying “well,” “but,” “if.”  It is a hand held up between you.  When you drop expectation, even for a moment, you “receive” the other as they are in the moment. That produces an entirely different gesture that will be perceived and you will notice the difference.

People don’t want to be simply “heard.” They want to be seen. They want to be recognized. They want to be understood. A person may feel they are “heard” when they are met with attention. But, they will feel recognized if they are “received” and they will feel understood when they perceive that they are received as they are.

The Healing Power of Listening

When we listen to one another without anticipation, expectation, or self-interest, it becomes possible to know one another in entirely new ways. All the “isms” of human history are monuments to the difficulty in doing this. Yet, there is really nothing standing between us.

Every once in a while something different and deeper touches us.  There is eye contact. We stop listening for some thing to happen.

The other is there in front of us and direct connection bridges the conventions of looking and listening that separate us. In an instant, we are no longer strangers.  Many people reported experiencing this, or something like this, in the hours and days after 9/11.  The shock of what had happened suspended the illusion of separation. The whole world had experienced something together and in that experience had realized their essential common humanity.   Total strangers looked at each other and spoke with each other everywhere.

Listening directly into the present is essentially a healing activity because it restores wholeness to our experience.

AND it allows us all to be as we are.