Leading culture from your strengths
By Pam Fox Rollin, MBA, MBTI® Master Practitioner
“Please send me an email outlining what I should do to be a good leader of culture,” requested an introverted C-level executive as we launched a major culture initiative across his organization.
What would you write?
Would you give him a list of generic “good leader” behaviors? Would you describe what you’d do? Or, maybe, would you tell him what you’ve seen your favorite leaders do?
Let’s look at how some people I’ve worked with approach their commitment to lead culture.
An ISTJ CIO leading 450 people
- Opened the weekly executive team meeting with a report from each team member on what he or she had done in the past week to lead culture and what he or she had learned
- Tracked accountability for culture development milestones on visibility walls next to his office
- Asked us to create step-by-step worksheets for managers at all levels to help them lead practical culture conversations in their teams
An ESFP CEO leading 750 people
- Identified the persistent “fault lines” in the culture and invited (read: required) misaligned leaders to go talk with each other until they resolved differences
- Visibly led events and encouraged people to take specific actions to build culture
- Extended an open invitation to come by for a quick chat and wrote notes of appreciation to people who provided feedback
An INTJ business line SVP leading 1,800 people
- Commissioned a thorough analysis of the organization’s culture
- Kept the spotlight on culture building as a top focus area for leaders at all levels
- Balanced urgency with a long-term plan for building a constructive culture
An ENTP CEO leading 60 people
- Made clear what results the culture must drive toward as the company grows
- Deputized frontline managers to take the lead in kicking up the fun
- Asked people to tell him when it would be better to give space for others to lead while he supports silently from the back of the room
An ENFJ CEO leading 120 people
- Shared stories that brought the organization’s values to life in a fresh and inspirational way
- Personally coached key skip-level leaders and arranged professional coaching
- Brought Myers-Briggs® and 360-degree feedback deep into the organization
What I notice is that successful leaders of culture don’t try to cover every base. They lead from their strengths and preferences. Executives have so many demands on their time and energy. When their actions align with their preferences, they are more likely to make good on commitments, be successful in those actions, and feel energized rather than drained. I’ve found that Myers-Briggs type opens a useful conversation about what sorts of actions leaders are glad to undertake to drive culture.
Now let’s consider: How do weaknesses, “stretch” areas, and blind spots inform a strengths-based approach?
Here again, Myers-Briggs type does the heavy lifting. I invite teams leading culture to consider what they are likely to overlook and how they might arrange to cover that base. For example, an executive team that is weighted toward STJ might see, upon reflection, that it is likely to underengage the organization in considering “why” before diving into “how.”
Often, we’ll come up with a plan to address these gaps with a mix of tactics. For example, each exec might agree to take on one less-preferred but well-developed action (ENTP: “OK, I wouldn’t normally tell people specifically what I want them to do, but, yeah, I’m certainly capable of doing that.”); take on just one stretch action (INFP: “With some coaching and support, I agree to make a big-group presentation.”); and arrange for help from the wider organization (INFJ: “I wonder if someone from Sales could help me translate my thoughts into words that sound practical and action-oriented.”).
Are there any “must-dos” in leading culture? Yes, especially the following:
- Match what you care about, what you say, and what you do, especially when it comes to core cultural values.
For example, if you say partnership is central to the company’s culture but you don’t genuinely care about it and you blame nondelivery on another group, you’ve just damaged the culture and your credibility.
- Treat people with respect.
In big groups, in small groups, one-on-one, externally, etc. Always.
- Show up as a learner.
- When you fall down on #1 (care/say/do match) call yourself on it, say what you’ll do differently now, and do it.
- Don’t assume that the same actions show respect to everyone. Become aware of differences in how respect is “heard” by people of different personalities, national cultures, and life experiences.
- Ask people at all levels what they see about the culture and what aspects help or hinder them in doing great work.
What will you say to the next person who asks how he or she should lead culture? Let’s keep this discussion going. Glad for your comments below or at http://www.ideashape.com/contacts/
Also, join us Tuesday, July 12 for 16 Ways to Be a Culture Leader: How Leaders of all MBTI® Types Contribute to Healthy Company Culture,
Pam Fox Rollin coaches executives and top teams in the San Francisco Bay Area and globally. Many of her clients have been rock stars in their functions and are now set to lead more broadly at the C-level. Pam’s company, IdeaShape, also facilitates culture development, strategy sessions, innovation retreats, conflict resolution, leadership development cohorts, executive onboarding, and team building. Pam works most often with technology, healthcare/pharma, and financial services companies, including Cisco, Genentech/Roche, VMWare, LinkedIn, and Stanford Health Care. A Stanford MBA alum, she frequently returns to the Stanford Graduate School of Business to facilitate leadership programs and coach executive education. Her book, 42 Rules for Your New Leadership Role, has become an indispensable guidebook for leaders and HR/OD. The Myers-Briggs® framework is Pam’s favorite model for prompting leaders to interact more effectively with each other and with their teams.
Pam is always up for a good conversation about what matters to you and your organization.