6 December 2019
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If your results stink, take a look at your culture!

The great pay off from being me is that I get invited to hear some of the smartest people on the planet. I’m not sure if it’s because they know that as a leader I need a lot of help!

On Friday I had the good fortune to listen to Pat Lencioni, the author of the book The Advantage, who argues that “organisational health trumps everything else in business.”

And I guess if I was a leader at a big bank, the Catholic Church or the Liberal Party, I’d be wondering if it has been our organisational health that explains our ordinary performance!

In fact, Pat has been talking to the Australian Rugby Union — he made references to that in his speech — and the ARU’s Wallabies, as well as their Super Rugby teams, which have been demonstrating (until this year, thank God) that something was wrong with rugby in this country. I for one haven’t believed it was a player problem but more an organisation issue.

Why do I say that? Well, my business has sponsored Easts in the Sydney comp for many years and I’ve never been contacted by anyone from Sydney, NSW or Australian rugby in all that time! Not even a measly thank you. That says a lot about any organisation or business!

(Fortunately, the club itself was appreciative of our support but its good corporate behaviour contrasted just how ordinary its over-arching organisation has been.)

Back to Pat and what he says is crucial in creating a healthy culture in your organisation, which I think is just as applicable if you were trying to bolster your own individual culture. And he tells us that our greatest competitive advantage lies in the people you hang out with in your business or your network.

He holds up the US airline business, Southwest Airlines, as an organisation that has tapped into their exceptional culture to create great performances. The leaders of that business have done such a great job creating a happy culture that its staff’s happiness gets transmitted to customers, explaining why the business is so loved and successful.

A healthy-culture business comes out of a cohesive leadership, who are into clarity on what’s important to the leaders. They then need to have a huge commitment to reminding everyone what the business stands for. Finally, there has to be an enormous reinforcement of all this so everyone’s on the same page.

I learnt that there are six questions all leaders need to share with their followers but they really should be the questions an individual needs to have answers for in leading themselves and here they are:

1.     Why do we exist? Southwest Airlines drove their business so that poorer people, who didn’t travel, could access cheap airline travel

2.     How do we behave? This means having something that defines you. Southwest Airlines valued happiness and the importance of having fun.

3.     What business are you in? Are you just selling stuff or are you helping people? In the case of Southwest Airlines they were making it easier for families to be together and for salespeople to access a bigger audience and therefore help their success.

4.     How will we succeed? The strategy being different to deliver success must be fully grasped by all. Everyone at Southwest knew the business wanted to be on time, all the time, with low fares and an enormous loyalty to the customer.

5.     What is most important now? Pat says a leader should say “this matters most”. The impact of this realisation led him to once say to his own team that he didn’t want to just lead a business, he wanted lead a movement! How powerful a message is that for a leader to give to his or her team?

6.     What must we do? This is an important question for all followers to know and it’s the leader who has to define the answer.

One of the key tasks of a good leader is to kill the dysfunctionality that dogs too many organizations.

Pat says a leader has be prepared to be vulnerable to build up trust and honesty in an organisation. They can’t avoid and indeed should encourage conflict. He suggested that our banking system ran away from being honest because employees were too afraid to be in conflict with management. And they have to encourage followers to “weigh” in with their views and this will breed employee “buy in”.

Accountability has to be seen as a compulsory process. It could mean the leader ends up hearing what he or she doesn’t want to hear. A strong message has to be that it’s the team’s results that matter more than any individuals.

Anyone reflecting on the failure of the Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull Governments knows it was failure to build up a team spirit that undermined their success. All four leaders needed to take some lessons from someone like Pat Lencioni. Interestingly he did say that his methods don’t seem to work with politicians and lawyers because they’re individualistic and adversarial.

Some might say a lot of these individuals have a cultural obstacle to exploiting the competitive advantage of being in a team as a team player.

There’s a lesson in that for all of us!

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