Coaching Story | Leaders Focus on Culture

During a “catch-up call” with a client, my colleague shared that her prior company was acquired by a larger one. During the acquisition, despite a generous offer, she made a decision to seek a new opportunity at another small company rather than stay with the larger one. The new firm sounds technically sophisticated, hip and rapidly growing - overall a fun place to work and develop at the same time. 

Curious, I asked her how in her HR role she could make the biggest difference from a leadership development perspective. Soon the discussion turned to culture. It sounded very familiar, and brought back my own startup-up CEO memories. The new company is tightly run by a CEO and CTO, or Chief Technology Officer, with an aggressive goal of tripling revenue in three years and has recently added 30 new employees. There is concern at the company about retaining the culture during this period of rapid growth, which appears to be guided today by an unwritten set of core values that everyone more or less “just knows.”

Recall that during an Academy Leadership Excellence Course, all attendees draft a written Personal Leadership Philosophy, as part of their Leader’s Compass, or True North. It’s a pretty unusual kind of thing to write, and also a powerful way to share who we are and what we believe in. Perhaps more importantly, a good leadership philosophy has humility, and makes a commitment to receiving feedback, or accountability, so that we may continue growing as leaders. In an Academy Leadership Advanced Leadership Course, all attendees go further, and develop succinct definitions of their organization’s core values along with normative behavioral statements, or clearly written descriptions of what each of the values looks like in action. We can take another step and develop an Organizational Constitution, as S. Chris Edmonds advises in the culture engine. These exercises are meant to discover, or reveal culture, not “impose” it. Think about that.

The timing sounds perfect and my impression is that my colleague is just where she wants to be, at just the right time. Well-known business leaders such as Tony Hseih of Zappos learned the time to codify core values and make critical decisions such as hiring or firing based on them, is before rapid growth, not after.

What are your core values? What is your leadership philosophy? What informs your decisions as a leader? Great leaders focus on culture.