My Journey to Develop my own Personal Culture

A father and son talking about respect. I still remember vividly a talk my father gave me when I was around 12 years old. We were in the old barn tool shed on the farm where I grew up in Tennessee. My friends and I got caught “toilet paper rolling” some homes and trees the night before, and he was giving me a stern, heart-to-heart talk regarding what he felt was the most important thing in life—personal responsibility. “You own everything you do and get, Nathan. Take responsibility for your actions,” he told me. That was his personal culture. It stuck with me. In fact, for the next thirty or so years of my life, I would say it drove my beliefs and actions more than any other lesson I had learned or piece of advice I had been given. I believed that to be a successful son, husband, father, teammate and employee, the most important thing for me to do was to be 100% accountable for my actions. Do what you say and say what you’ll do.

 Setting goals for my individual contributions then achieving or exceeding others’ expectations for those goals was what I knew would make me successful in my career. And when I became a manager and leader of teams, I felt if we had the right individuals on the team, such as the top performers or those that got things done on their own, our team would also succeed. This was the cornerstone of my professional and personal “belief” system.

 My belief system began to change when I started managing teams of increasing size and, more importantly, diversity. While I still believe strongly in individual achievement and the premise of being accountable to others, I no longer believed these were the most important attributes in achieving success. At this point in my career it was common for individuals to be part of a team before I arrived to lead them and thus, it was my job to learn their existing team dynamics and success strategies.

A diverse group of individuals working together on a team.

 I observed that successful teams felt comfortable sharing ideas and with one another; they built and worked in a trusted environment. This really made a difference for team members that might otherwise go unheard; some examples include women in a male-dominated group (which is common in our business), newly-hired team members and yes, introverts. It occurred to me, far too late in the game if I’m being honest, that the teams that were most successful were not the ones that had the smartest or most productive individuals but rather the ones that harnessed the power of their diversity and used their unique perspectives to solve problems. To work, this meant every team member trusted the others enough to share less ‘traditional’ or even wildly-different ideas.

A picture of the three keywords to good leadership, "Respect," "Candor," "Results." As I’ve reflected more on my observations over the years, I’ve identified two qualities that the most-successful teams exhibit.

 First, team members show high amounts of respect for one another. 

Second, they successfully use candor. Getting everyone’s thoughts on the table for discussion is critical to success. But, team members must also display candor with regards to these ideas. Each member must be able to give and receive honest feedback. Only team members that respect each other are truly capable of displaying such behavior.

 You’ll notice these qualities build upon each other. If you have respect, you can build trust. Once you have trust, you can exhibit  candor. This means you can give and receive open and candid communication, even if that conversation includes a critique or a disagreement about ideas. Teams with trust, that exhibit candor can make the best decision as fast as possible- this is what it takes to drive results. Results are created by highly-functioning teams and ultimately, teams are measured by the results they deliver.

 Without a strategy and the accompanying execution plan, businesses would not last beyond the first major disruption in their marketplace. Yet, in my opinion, the culture of a business, matters much more. Culture is key because it grounds organizational behaviors and interactions. Organizations are A image depicting the quote "Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch" by Peter Druckermade up of individuals and together, individuals make a team, so, if the culture of a team is important, it begs the question, “should everyone also have their own ‘personal culture’?”

Today, I feel that treating others with respect is the most important thing I can do. Together, Respect, candor and results are the three things that define my personal culture and I try to put them into practice every day. I also believe it’s critically important as a leader to communicate your personal culture to your team. Doing so can help you establish a team culture wherein you all hold each other accountable for exhibiting these qualities and behaviors. Is it possible my personal culture will evolve over time? Sure. But today, I’m proud to lead with and hold myself accountable to a culture of respect, candor and results. I just hope Dad approves.

 What’s your personal culture? What do you think is most effective about your team culture? Share your thoughts by replying below.