“Mr. Gorbechev, thank you for tearing down those walls.” This statement from former U.S. President George H. Bush was in gratitude to the U.S.S.R. for tearing down the Berlin Wall, a wall which divided territories led by two different philosophies—communism and capitalism. By tearing down the Berlin wall, Mikhail Gorbechev opened the world to new possibilities. The German nation could be completely unified under the same philosophy, those led by communism could experience the benefits of capitalism, and the threat of war between those led by communism and capitalism diminished. The divide between communism and capitalism still exists, but the same hostility doesn’t. The cold war proved diplomacy is better than war.
The reason I used the philosophy differences of communism and capitalism to talk about tearing down the walls of poor philosophy is because most companies are led like communist regimes. Communism says people aren’t capable of making proper decisions for themselves, so the government should make them. Individual ownership, rights, and property do not exist. People are limited in how much wealth they can accumulate. Typical communist governments are one party systems and voting is often a sham. When it comes to the people in communist governments, you find the following:
- Lack of work motivation
- Slavery mentality
- Lack of critical thinking
- Silent opposition to the government
- Void of vision
Most businesses look at employees as a necessary evil. I heard one prominent leadership “expert” say, “Employees are just the cost of doing business.” Most business leaders make decisions for their teams without considering them. I’ve been in meetings where leaders are discussing important matters of company practices that affect all people at all levels, and they don’t think to include all their team members. In many businesses, unless you have a certain level of education, there is only so far you can move up regardless if you are ten times more experienced and knowledgeable than your leaders. Most mid to lower level employees feel like their opinions aren’t heard. Therefore, when it comes to most businesses you find the following:
- Lack of work motivation – 39% of employees feel underappreciated at work, with 77% reporting that they would work harder if they felt better recognized.
- Slavery mentality – Slavery mentality is a hopeless condition where a person feels owned by their boss because they control their paycheck and in the person’s mind—their future.
- Lack of critical thinking – Critical thinking is looking for validity and falsifiability in what you’re taught and told. Statistics show only 1 in 5 people in the marketplace think critically about what they are taught and told.
- Silent opposition to leadership – 75% of people who have left their jobs have later said they didn’t quit their job, they quit their bosses.
- Void of vision – 71% of employees do not know their company’s strategy.
I freely admit that I’ve displayed poor leadership more than I’ve displayed good leadership. I’ve been in the 95% bad leadership category most of my leadership life. I’ve been the communist dictator. I’ve been inconsiderate. I’ve said foolish things. I’ve communicated through email when it should’ve been face-to-face. I’ve even slammed one of my team members against the wall. I could go on and on. I have many shortcomings as a leader. However, I know my shortcomings and accept them. I don’t make excuses for them or pretend they’re ok just because I’m candid and clear about them. By being open and sincere, my team picks up my slack and they are also open and sincere about their shortcomings, which allows me to help them.
I’ve never met a leader who tries to lead poorly. Most leaders lead based on what they’ve learned, read, listened to, or seen and they do it to the best of their ability. It is one thing to be have a successful business, which is based upon systems, products and services, it’s another thing to be a successful leader, which is based upon people. If you’re going to have a great culture, you can’t treat people like systems, because if you do, you will become a communist dictator that doesn’t treat people with exponential value they possess.
When leaders discover they’ve been leading like a communist dictator, they typically go through the cycle of the 5 stages of grief. I’ve helped many leaders recognize their shortcomings and the effects it has on their culture. It’s not easy to accept at first. It feels like your guts are being ripped out, so if you are coming to the realization yourself, expect the following:
Leaders deny their shortcomings. They think the information about bad leadership is for other leaders who have led their business like a communist regime. They become defensive about their position and want to justify their leadership decisions. You say this in your next point anyway.
As leaders think about the concept and reality and emotion collide, certain leaders become angry about the way they were taught. They become angry at their teachers or mentors. Most of all, they become angry at themselves. I always remind leaders they can only lead based on what they know and if they did the best they could, there’s no reason to be angry at themselves. The good news is it only gets better when you know your shortcomings.
This is where the vulnerability of a leader’s deficiencies sets in. A leader bargains and begins to make excuses for why they’ve had shortcomings. This is where phrases like, “I’ve done the best I could,” or “I’ve just led how I was taught,” or “I’ve done a lot of good things too.” None of those phrases are incorrect. It’s natural to bargain when you’ve been shocked by the truth.
As leaders realize that their leadership is the reason for a poor culture it is easy to become depressed and hopeless. A few leaders I’ve worked with have lost days of sleep, they can’t eat, and feel overwhelmed. This is a natural response. It’s good to feel disappointment, but you can’t stay there. Ask your coach, teammates, and friends to help you.
Acceptance is the only door that leads to a fulfilling and prosperous culture. Once you accept that you’ve had shortcomings in leadership, you can make a decision to change, and then you take the steps to change. Acceptance is about taking personal responsibility for yourself and realizing your influence with your team has the power to build something great.
Let me be clear: just because someone is a bad leader doesn’t mean they are a bad person. Great leadership starts with the right heart, but must be aligned with the proper skills. If you have the right heart and the wrong skills, you will not be a great leader. The same is true if you have the right skills and the wrong heart. Being a successful business person who can make money and keep people employed doesn’t make you a great leader. A great leader draws out the greatness of her team. In my experience as a coach, consultant, and speaker, I’ve only met a few leaders who possess the heart and skill to do that.
If you’re a leader it is vital to come to acceptance before trying to build a great culture. To do this, you must first be authentic and admit your shortcomings. We all have them. No leader is perfect. The idea that you have to be is a lie, and that lie will continue to tear you down unless it’s dealt with candidly and authentically. We all need to accept that we have shortcomings because it’s the truth, and the truth sets us free. Pull out a piece of paper and write your shortcomings down. Let yourself see them in the third party perspective. Laugh and cry about them. Above all, accept them and be ready to share them with your team.
Once you’ve come to acceptance, you need to tear down the walls of poor philosophy in your culture. Most poor philosophies are embedded in the assumptions of your culture. To find them, you will need to be intentional, vulnerable, and gracious. For example, if you are the type of leader who doesn’t like to hear bad news, constructive criticism, or challenging views, close this book and move on to something else. From this point on, you will need to keep an open mind and heart. Keep reminding yourself to “give the power back to the people” as George Washington did.
Use the following steps to evaluate the poor philosophies in your culture.
- EVALUATE YOUR CULTURE BY ASKING TOUGH QUESTIONS
Everything starts and ends with leadership. Tell your leadership staff you are going to evaluate each other in a brutally honest fashion. Give them this list of questions. Then take them on a retreat or take a day at your business to go over these and to prepare to set a better culture moving forward.
Here are some questions:
- On a scale of 1-10 (1 lowest, 10 highest) rate each leader in the room. *If you do not interact with a particular leader, put N/A*
- If the leader is not a 10, how can they improve? (Please write in as much detail as you can)
- On a scale of 1-10 (1 lowest, 10 highest) rate yourself as a leader.
- If you aren’t a 10, how can you improve? (Please write in as much detail as you can)
MISSION, VISION, AND VALUES QUESTIONS
- What is the vision of our organization?
- What is the mission of our organization?
- What are the values of our organization?
If everyone does not have the same answers when regarding your vision, mission, and values, you do not have clarity in your organization. Take time as a group to answer these follow-up questions:
- Where will we be 5 years from now?
- What is our purpose of our existence as an organization?
- What would we never compromise as an organization?
- If we ceased to exist tomorrow, what would our clients, employees, and vendors miss about us?
- What one goal do we all share?
- CLEAR THE AIR
Next, you will need to clear the air. Any offense leaders have had against one another, any ill conceptions or disagreements need to be brought to the table and confronted. You cannot go into a new culture with bitterness, resentment, and hard feelings. These things must be brought out into the open so you can all move forward in unity. Before you do this, set the following ground rules for the group.
- Respect each other’s viewpoints.
This exercise will be painful, but we are all trying to reach unity. You are allowed to disagree, but do it with honor and respect.
- Everyone will have a chance to share.
Each person needs to share if they’ve been offended by a co-worker or the company. It is important that each person is brutally honest—with kindness.
- Be mindful of time.
In situations like this it is natural to be nervous and to ramble. Take a few moments to write down what you would like to say. Then get it all out and allow the next person to go.
- Be gracious
Culpability and bitterness come with a lot of bottled up emotions. Anger and fear may cause someone to cry or be aggressive. Keep this in mind as people are sharing and remember that a gentle answer turns away wrath.
Go around the room, starting with the President/CEO and answer the following questions:
- Is there anyone in this room you are harboring ill feelings towards?
- Are you harboring ill feelings towards the organization?
- Who do you think you have offended in this room that you need to ask to forgive you?
After everyone has gone, take the proper time to allow everyone to ask for forgiveness, give forgiveness, and share how they will amend their errors in judgement. Do not rush this process. Make sure you ask multiple times if everyone has anything else before you move on.
After the air is cleared, you will want to clarify your vision and purpose again. See if anyone has fresh ideas. If they do, talk about the ideas and incorporate them in your vision. If not, move on to the last point.
CASE STUDY: “The Hammer”
Jeff was a division leader of over 10,000 people. His heart was right for his team members. He was the metaphoric “good guy” who would give the shirt off his back, the food off his plate, and the money from his pocket to help his people. Jeff was also very intelligent and a hard worker. However, Jeff lacked compassion, communication skills, and patience. Jeff’s nickname from his employees was “The Hammer,” which he assumed, because he was a good guy, was an endearing nickname. However, after doing an evaluation, Jeff realized his people feared him. It was common for him to yell, not listen, and make people feel foolish with brash communication. Jeff wrote down all his weaknesses, shared them with his team, and vowed to change. The response he received was beyond what he expected. His team members rallied around him, forgave him, and vowed to change with him. As a result, their team is more efficient, productive, and cohesive, and Jeff is becoming a great leader and not just a “good guy.”
- CLEAR THE REMAINS
After you’ve cleared the air, your leadership team will be feeling like they’re walking on air. You don’t want to take away from that, but you want to set ground rules for moving forward. The offenses and bitterness were accumulated over a long course of time. The behaviors which caused them were built through bad habits over a long period. Clearing the remains will take time. Just like clearing the rubble of demolition takes time, so does clearing the remains of offenses and bitterness. After the initial emotions of forgiveness wear off, some team members may start feeling the effects of offense creeping back in. The poor habits which caused the offenses will take time to overcome. People will make mistakes and will need time to change.
It is important to give each other fields of grace to grow in. People can be hard on themselves. If someone makes a mistake it is important to encourage and not judge. I like to say encouragement is “to put courage in” to someone else. It takes tremendous courage to move forward with vulnerability and authenticity. Keep in mind that if you judge others for mistakes they make, they will judge you when you make mistakes. Forgiveness is not a one-time event; you will need to make it a habit. Grace is not a one-time offering. You will need to make it a habit as well. Increase the frequency and longevity of grace and forgiveness. If you do you will clear the remains of a poor cultural practices more quickly.
FINAL NOTES OF STEP #3
Because this is a deep internal step and it hurts and is challenging, it’s a natural tendency to want to rush through it as quickly as you can and move on. Do not rush this step. If it takes you a year to properly tear down poor philosophy and clear the remains, then take your time. You do not want to build on ground littered with old artifacts. Take your time and allow forgiveness and grace to do it’s work.
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