Culture is Established From the Top-down

Are you a leader? Before you answer, let me give you my definition of leadership. I define leadership as influence.

Let me ask again, are you a leader? Of course you are. You might not be THE leader in your company or workplace, but you are a leader – whether it is in your department at work, at home, in your church, some volunteer organization or in some other capacity – you are a leader.

I wanted to establish the definition of leadership because of what I wish to discuss next – and that is establishing the culture. Every organization has a culture – home, work, church, volunteer organizations, etc. And the culture is established from the top-down. One of the most frequent complaints from employees is about company policy and codes of conduct. Usually the complaint is not about any particular policy but the fact that their leaders do not follow the policies.

I worked with a senior executive with a very large financial institution in a division that was considered a support or operational division. He continually repeated the phrase, “Your success is my mission!” And it was the “published” mission of his organization – but it was NOT the culture. In fact, it was one of the most toxic organizations I ever encountered. Internal customers and service providers were often skewered on the pit of his toxic rants.

I read an article about Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonia Spurs who recently won the National Basketball Association championship. It was pointed out that one of the many things that he does as the coach of the Spurs that contributes to their success is that he, many years ago, established a culture of excellence. Understand – excellence IS the culture – it’s not some mantra that is plastered on posters throughout the organization to which only lip-service is given. It has been deeply established. As evidence, look at the facts about the Spurs, as presented by Kurt Badenhausen in an article he wrote for the Forbes Business section:

  • Highest winning percentage (60% or better for each season) of any team in major pro sports (U.S.) since 1997
  • The trio of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker under the guidance of coach Gregg Popovich has won more playoff games than any trio of players in NBA history
  • Posted operating profits of a record $39 million last season while playing in the NBA’s fourth smallest market
  • TV ratings for Spurs games were up 15% this year and ranked second in the NBA

Whatever the culture is that you wish to establish, it starts with you, wherever you are the leader. Establishing the culture of an organization is not easy – it is hard work – but it can be done. You must remember that true leaders must first set the tone and set the example, then others will follow.