How to Test Your Culture

If your company has a mission, vision and/or values and you are curious to find out if your employees are living them each day, there’s a simple way to find out.

And for the purpose of this post let’s say that one of your company’s values is integrity. To find out if integrity is practiced in the way that you have defined it, try this:

Invite a group of 5-10 employees to attend a meeting at which you ask them to respond to this request:

“Please tell a recent, truthful and specific story about a time you saw a colleague practice integrity.

Give them a few minutes to think about it and then sit back and listen.

Stories are the fastest way to the truth of what’s going on. If there’s a compelling story to be told, you have compelling evidence of the existence of that particular part of your cultural aspiration. If not, it doesn’t exist…or at least not how you hoped it might.

And that leads to your second request of the group:

“What ideas do you have about how to bring integrity alive in our organization.What would make it more likely that you would have more stories to tell?”

Repeat the conversation with another group and then another and another, until all leaders share the responsibility for being collectors of stories and facilitators of the ideas that will bring your culture to life.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.


Your Leadership Profile

You’re a leader, but what kind are you? What are the elements that make you, you?

To help my clients answer these questions with both clarity and authenticity, I guide them through a process of discernment in the following areas:

Values clarification…knowing what you stand for means you have a roadmap for the key decisions you must make as a leader.

Strengths identification…you can’t use them if you’re not sure what they are! And once you know you can build a team that complements you.

Development needs…we all have them and the sooner you own up to your common, recurring pitfalls the sooner you’ll be able to avoid them more often than not.

Accomplishments…look back and appreciate – in concrete detail – what you’ve done well so you can both celebrate and memorize what worked.

Goals…not the financial results kind but the personal effectiveness kind. What kind of impact do I want to make this year? How do I want to make it?

Key relationships…there are lots of people you support and who support you. Who are the two or three most critical people to focus on right now? How will they help you achieve your goals? How will you help them achieve theirs?

And finally, most importantly, this question: Why do you lead? (More on this one tomorrow.)

Whatever kind of leader you are – parent, foreman, teacher, project manager – completing this profile allows you to harvest insights that lead to impact.

It’s hard work. And for you and those you lead, worth every bit of it.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Lead From Your Values

Attempting to lead without a clear value system to guide your way is like “sailing” without the sails. You can motor around the calm waters of the harbor all you want but you’ll be cast adrift on the open ocean.

January-9I recently led a workshop during a leadership conference. My presentation was about the central “voices” of leadership necessary to thrive in the face of complexity and change. I refer to these disciplines or practices as “voices” because leadership is very much an “out loud” experience. I am not referring to extraversion or charisma or any of the other stereotypes of effective leadership. Instead, I am talking about the emergent qualities of self-understanding, relationship building and continuous learning that we must access and practice out in the open if we are to sustain a confident and committed followership.

The first exercise I asked the workshop participants to complete was a reflection on their core values. Specifically, I asked them to share a story about how their value system was initially formed. I encouraged them to consider early school, family or work experiences that were instrumental in shaping what is most important to them. My premise in starting here was and is that if we are to articulate who we are as leaders, a clearly expressed value system must come first. Leadership without values is like language without vowels. It just doesn’t work very well.

The participants considered their experiences and shared their stories. The group discussion that followed revealed that many of them gained significant and useful insights partly through their reflection but primarily through their conversations. Their interactions brought to life memories and influences that were central in shaping their present value system. But not for everyone.

Just recently I received a summary of the evaluations for this workshop and one piece of feedback left me both disheartened and determined. A participant said: “Since I have no idea what my values are I didn’t get a chance to participate in the exercises.”

 Yes, I am disheartened that this individual does not know their values but I am even more disheartened that they were unable to use the opportunity of a leadership conference – a potentially profound learning experience – to begin the process of getting clear.

I am disheartened that they felt isolated and excluded and I can only hope that in their own way they will seek the counsel of someone who will help them learn to articulate what matters most to them.

I am disheartened that the “leadership industrial complex” continues to churn out leaders who have not done the most fundamental, most important work of getting clear on who they are.

I am disheartened that my implicit assumption that all of the participants had at least a basic understanding of their values made it unsafe for this person – and likely others – to fully engage in the workshop. That’s an assumption I will not make again.

Mostly, I am determined.

I am determined to speak to the importance of “first things first” and to challenge and support every leader I encounter to get clear about their own foundation – the values that shape their “voice of understanding” – so they will be equipped to thrive in the face of change.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.