Skills for Leaders: Culture

Leaders may be proficient in putting together an effective strategy, like a sound playbook for the organization to follow. However, the organizational culture will greatly determine the success of those who are tasked with carrying out the leader’s strategy.

Culture defines what is encouraged and accepted within a group. Thus, when values are aligned and behaviors support those values, the energy directed toward a shared purpose is tremendous. According to a Harvard study on more than two hundred companies, a strong culture increases net income 765 percent over ten years.

Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code (2018), looked into why some groups succeed and others do not and how the group culture determines success. He found that cultures are created by a specific set of skills that employ the power of our social brains.

The first skill is Building Safety. According to Coyle, Safety is the foundation of which a strong culture is built. It communicates through bonding cues such as eye contact, listening, turn taking, attention, energy, and so much more that, in his words, “we are solidly connected and generate bonds of belonging and identity.” It says, “You are safe here ,” and incorporates both psychological and emotional safety. Incorporating fun is an action that leaders are encouraged to do. Laughter is the most fundamental sign of safety and connection.

The second skill is Sharing Vulnerability. This is the willingness to perform a certain behavior that goes against our every instinct. A shared exchange of openness is the most basic building block of cooperation and trust. Science shows that when trying to create cooperation, vulnerability is not a risk but a psychological requirement, according to Coyle. Leaders must be vulnerable first and often.

The third skill is Establishing Purpose. This is about how story or narratives create shared goals and values. The first two skills signal, “You are safe, We share risk here.” This third skill is about having a shared understanding of “what this is all for,” and “what we are working toward.” Successful cultures create high purpose environments. They do this by ceaselessly finding ways to tell and retell their story. The story communicates, “This is where we are, this is where we are going.” From a neuroscience perspective, stories create our reality.

Where is your organization do you see these skills practiced? What might you do to incorporate a these perform these skills?