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Culture makes or breaks you

October 8, 2015

There is something about day three at Linkage’s Global Institute for Leadership Development® that makes it different. The day is long, the content heavy, and yet we as leaders really come alive in our GILD experience. The Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing of our Learning Teams has kicked into hyperdrive. There are no obstacle courses (except perhaps for afternoon wine) and no traditional team-building exercises. Instead there are difficult conversations, focused inward reflection, and, let’s face it, a strong dose of elated exhaustion.

What drives this accelerated connection? It’s the GILD culture. Leaders who come here are a special kind of people. Their success is as much about their inner drive and desire to learn as it is our award-winning faculty.

Culture is such a powerful thing. Tim Sanders reminded us of the power this morning when he stated “feelings are fact.” Everything, from how we treat an employee’s crisis to how we use email, creates culture. Our legacy as leaders will be built around how we worked with others.

After all, culture is what we make it. Don’t like the current culture? Change it. Start by reframing your landscape. Think outside the building, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter puts it. Stop worrying about what can’t be done in your industry or company and start building coalitions and partnerships to help you get there. Innovation requires courage and time, but it also gives birth to many wonderful possibilities.

Just look at Bill Strickland. For Bill, his vision and purpose in life has been clear since he was in high school; to create a new world for the world’s poor and neglected. It’s a daunting task. But Bill is doing it. Every step he takes, every decision he makes is in service of that vision. As a result: Manchester Bidwell Corporation, which Bill founded, has successfully launched centers around the world to bring light, beauty, and nourishment to poor people. His belief: “We must look like the solution to the problem.”

There is no impossible, even though sometimes things can feel that way. Imagine being a new leader, an expatriate in a foreign culture, leading a company when suddenly all of your employees, their families, friends, and your own life are in danger; a war breaks out. How do you protect your people, continue to run your business, and drive results through a war? That is the challenge Christos Tsolkas found himself faced with in Ukraine. His advice for us: Change the emotional temperature by addressing the fear, the distress, by talking to your people. Come out of yourself; let yourself go; be authentic.

It’s true outside of a war zone as well; our job as leaders is to create a culture, an environment, a place where people feel safe, secure, and supported. Take a minute and think about that. Are you creating a culture of beauty for your team or are you building something else?

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