The most valuable lesson I learned from my service in the United States Marines was the ingenious methods in which the Marine Corps exercised in order to build and maintain a culture that is populated by leaders at all levels and ranks.
Those leaders are empowered to improvise, innovate, make critical decisions, and take the initiative in the absence of their direct leaders. It is at the core of what makes the U.S. Marines an elite organization.
I have had many people tell me that this cultural design is not possible in the business world. They misinterpret that that culture is made up of blind followers.
I say they are wrong.
Yes, it requires a great deal of commitment, but most of all, it requires leadership and vision.
Before we get into the steps of building a leadership culture, let’s first go over what a leadership culture does for an organization and why it’s so critical.
Far too many startups and small businesses focus solely on revenue. Yes, this is critical to business survival, but what is neglected is sustainability. Many business owners and leaders focus on the short game that opens the doors every day, and end up digging a hole that prevents them from playing the long game that keeps the doors open for years to come.
When you build your leadership culture from the beginning, aligning the right people with your mission, vision, and values, you save yourself from having to make more difficult corrections in the future, or even worse, lose your business entirely.
It is one of the greatest benefits for those who are experiencing rapid growth, and need to hire the right people rapidly. I have witnessed this first-hand.
I have watched a business rapidly grow that neglected to develop their leaders from the beginning. As demand flooded in, they lacked the leaders to spread-load responsibility and decision making.
Quality of delivery went down, employee turnover went up, and they had to sink a lot of money into outside resources in an attempt to develop internal leaders capable of meeting the growth demands.
Worst of all, they started hiring anyone with the professional expertise but lacked any leadership potential. Why not get ahead of this curve from the beginning?
When a leadership culture exists, everyone in the organization can operate independently towards a common purpose, mission, and vision.
The best part is they don’t need to be micro-managed to do so.
I have listed the six steps to building a leadership culture below. The science is knowing the steps. The art is in how you make these steps work for you.
*I should note here. I am a leadership coach. I do not prescribe exact details on how you should lead. I prefer to ask questions and introduce concepts that draw the answers you are looking for from within yourself. Who you are makes your leadership style unique. It’s not a one size fits all solution to leadership. Blind followers need detailed instructions. Leaders think for themselves.
The six steps to building a leadership culture:
1. Morals & Values
Articulate and practice your morals and values.
What do you believe? What do you value? Don’t just write down what sounds good. Our decisions and actions are shaped by our morals and values. This is a major mistake most business owners make. They write what sounds good, but practice something different.
This is where many leaders sacrifice their values for the short term gains that end up spiraling out of control.
2. Traits & Principles
Identify the traits and principles you want your people to have and live by.
What characteristics do you want your people to possess in order to live the morals and values you identified above? What principle do you want your people to practice in their professional operations? How do you want your leaders shaped?
3. Recruit & Screen
Rigorously recruit & screen your prospective new hires for the morals, values, traits, and principles you have set in place.
You established a foundation with steps 1 & 2. Now it’s time to build on that foundation.
Instead of just having the experience and qualifications to work for you, do your prospective employees have the right morals, values, traits and principles? Are they aligned to the kind of people you want? Do they believe what you believe?
You will want to also tie step 6 to this as well.
4. Develop & Train
On-board everyone you hire using a training and development program that further enforces your organization’s morals, values, traits, and principles.
Not everyone is going to be a 100% fit.
You want to pick the people who are close, and then bring them all together with a common language, a leadership language. Everything in steps 1 & 2 now must become part of everyday operations and conversations.
This leadership language helps to set the roots of your culture deep. As part of your on-boarding or new-hire orientation, you commit time to introducing your people to the cultural language through the instructor’s example.
This is where and when your leadership culture expectations are further established, and put on display.
5. Mentor & Coach
Encourage mentoring and coaching among leaders and direct reports.
This is where operational expertise is combined with the leadership culture. If your culture is firmly in place, those you have already hired are to step up and mentor and coach those they are leading.
This is where the leadership culture is enforced and produces results. This is where the foundation set in steps 1 & 2 meets what you do as a business.
As leaders are developed more and more, you will begin to witness a multiplication in your growth vs. simple addition.
6. Organizational Purpose
Everything your organization produces and how your people produce it should always reflect a higher organizational purpose.
The reason I placed this as the last step is to ask you to look at this step as the tip to a funnel.
Steps 1-5 all drive to living the purpose for the organization’s existence. When all six steps are in alignment, you have people who are confident in the decisions they make and the actions they take in an effort to accomplish a common mission and vision that are aligned to a common purpose.
If you don’t know your purpose, I recommend you find ways to identifying it. Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” is a good place to start.
This is what a Leadership Culture looks like.
This is what high-functioning organizations have. This concept, when firmly rooted as a cultural design, allows the people in those organizations to delegate with confidence, make decisions with confidence, and execute with confidence.
This creates a growth pattern that is more sustainable. When downturns in the market occur, you have a culture of people all focused in on what needs to happen to maintain the business.
Please share your thoughts and comments with me. These concepts challenge people’s thinking and I welcome discussions.