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The 4 Keys to Building a Culture of Leadership

Would you like to know what CEOs talk about during coffee meetings? Here’s your opportunity to eaves drop on a conversation I had last week with one of the leading CEOs in Nashville...

“The job of a CEO and the stress you’re under every day is so real”, I said.

“You’ve got that right. It’s like a never ending stream of challenges to be solved. Opportunities are out there like never before. But, it’s not easy”, he said.

I’m always curious to know what the challenges are from a CEOs point of view, so I asked, “I know. It’s definitely not easy. I know you’ve probably heard and asked this questions before, but I just love to ask it and get your first reaction. So here goes. When you think about it, what are the top 2-3 things that keep you up at night? What are the challenges that make you lose sleep?”

“That’s easy”, he said. “Leadership. Leadership. Leadership, in that order.” We both laughed and he continued. “You can’t build a great culture, a great team, a great business without strong leadership. You can’t deliver outstanding products or services to your customers without great employees, who need outstanding leadership. This is one of the areas I think about all the time and how to attract the best leaders, build engagement with the best leaders, and put them in a position where they are able to do what it is they do. That’s what keeps me up at night.”

I smiled. “Why is this so important?”

“Well, to quote John Maxwell, ‘everything rises and falls on leadership’. You should know that”, he said jokingly.

I laughed. “You know I do. And you know I couldn’t agree more…”

I share this conversation because it’s one I have several times a week and more and more often as the years go by. And, this is the reason I’m so passionate about growing high-impact leaders. Why? Because we need them. Teams need them. Companies need them. Your customers want you to have them because when you do, you’re better able to serve your customer. It’s a win-win.

But, it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not enough to say “We’re going to focus on leadership” and then Viola, it just happens. It’s not that easy. But, it isn’t complex.

It’s important to remember, there’s a difference between growing leaders and growing leadership. Leaders definitely need to be growing every day. That’s their investment in themselves and your investment in them. True growth happens from the inside-out for leaders and that’s a topic for another day. What I’m talking about is “leadership"…leading to influence others. When done right, leadership is not just a nice phrase but part of the fabric of an organization.

But, where do you start? The first step is to understand the four keys to building a culture of leadership. Without these in place, any effort to grow leadership will be viewed by your team members as a “flavor of the month” deal that will not last. What are the four keys? Great question. At a high level, here they are:

First, you have to ALIGN. Creating a crystal clear picture of leadership and how powerful leaders impact your success is essential. It's been said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. While both are important, without alignment, maximizing the full potential of your leaders will never happen. Leaders need to know the goals and why those goals are important. They need to understand the impact each person makes to achieving those goals and how they can help unleash that power in their people. What alignment happens, you’re able to go from “managing” to truly “leading” because everyone is rowing with the same objective in mind. Then, all you have to do is get out of the way and let your people shine.

Next, you have to ENGAGE and IDENTIFY your leaders. Often, people are placed in leadership roles because of outstanding past performance. While this is an important aspect in assessing future impact, it's more important to make leadership selection decisions based on "Potential" rather than “Performance”. Do you know who your current leaders are? How about your emerging leaders? Do you know what you’re looking for in a high-impact leader for your company?

Third, you need to DEVELOP your leaders. Investing in leader development to help your leaders be as successful as possible for themselves, their teams, and the organization is non-negotiable. To have the greatest impact, this should always be an "inside/out" approach to leadership growth and development and flexible enough to meet the learning and development style of each person. Development never, never, stops. The longer you wait to develop, the further behind you’re sliding. Remember, you’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting. There is no status quo and leaders know you never reach a point where “I’ve got it all figured out."

Last, you need to EVALUATE the results and continue the process of growing and developing your leaders. The key to progress and continuous improvement is evaluation. To help you hit the target time after time you should use processes and systems for consistent evaluation of your strategy and leadership development initiatives to ensure you are achieving the goals you’re looking for and your company and teams are continuing to grow. Where you you today? Where do you need to be? and What needs to happen to get there?

When these four keys are in place and part of your leadership culture, your team and organization are unstoppable. Challenges may still be there. But, now they're being solved by the collective effort of everyone. Everyone is contributing. Everyone is valued. Everyone is engaged. Everyone is making a difference.

What would it be like if you could say this about your company? What would it be like if other people said this about your company? Remember, it’s not complex, but it does require intentional focus, commitment, and a tenacity to build the foundation of leadership that will allow the success of your people to shine.

Live. Love. Lead. Leave a Legacy!

Dr. Jason Brooks

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