The DNA of a Culture-Shaping Leader

The DNA of a Culture-Shaping Leader

Here are four quick observations about a culture-shaping leader, two negative and two positive.

1. A leader who is resigned to the way things are is not a leader who will shape culture.

You have to have some ‘fight’ in you if you want to build culture. By culture I mean the combination of behaviors and beliefs adopted and practiced by a certain group of people. To lead is to shape culture in one way or another. If you want to change culture, you have to possess dissatisfaction with the status quo. Anything less simply reinforces it.

If you want to change culture, you have to possess dissatisfaction with the status quo. Click To Tweet

2. A leader who points the finger at others is not a leader who can create culture.

Jim Collins in Good to Great talks about the concept of “The Window and the Mirror.”[1] Basically, when troubles arise a great leader looks in the mirror, while a mediocre leader looks through the window at those he is leading. A great leader takes responsibility; a poor leader shifts blame, points the finger, and passes the buck. The culture-shaping leader understands that the person most responsible for limiting the capacity of their organization is usually the one at the top of the food chain.

3. A culture-making leader owns “what is,” while driving those around him or her to “what should be.”

In his 2011 biography on Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson talks about the ‘reality distortion field’ that marked Jobs’ leadership. It was a sort of altered universe that Jobs inhabited; a universe in which logic, human capacity, or ‘the way things really are in reality’ didn’t apply. When people offered solutions that Jobs believed fell short of what he wanted, he would confront them straight on, many times with a ruthlessness that was legendary. His vision of ‘what should be’ motivated him to push people beyond themselves to a place of creative capacity that literally changed the way we see the world. Though Jobs wasn’t always the most pleasant individual, the culture he fostered in Apple is undeniable. He wasn’t afraid to point out the obvious, pushing those around him to execute his vision.

4. Leaders who change culture take it personally when anything in the culture they are shaping falls short of the vision.

Collins describes the “Level 5 leader” as someone who is:
Fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce results. They will sell the mills or fire their brother, if that’s what it takes to make the company great.[2]

It takes more than a vision to change culture. Passion and personal drive to see a vision become reality is the essen

[1] page 33ff.

[2] Good to Great, p. 30.