You can’t fix culture

by Ron Potter

I named my company Team Leadership Culture because those were the three elements that made a company great. You can think of those three elements as a triangle: Team and leadership at the base of the triangle, culture at the top. If you have not taken the time to build great teams and great leaders, a great culture is not going to develop.

Team is the most important. With a great team, lots of wonderful things can happen, sometimes even with mediocre leadership. However, great leadership without a good team almost always fails.

Teams can be easier to build than great leaders. Many times, out of peer pressure or for other reasons, members of the team will at least fake good teamwork for a period, knowing its expected. Often, even if it is fake, other team members take advantage to accomplish some great team performance. The old adage “fake it until you make it” works well also.

Teams we can built. Leadership is a little more difficult. The book A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille explains our education system by describing how it was originally formed. During the foundation of this country, great leaders were formed through a series of mentors, tutors, and subject matter experts spending personal time with individuals to help them develop their leadership skills. We had trade schools to help people become good craftsmen. Becoming a good butcher, baker or candlestick maker (carpenters, millwrights, blacksmith’s, etc.) happened through trade schools. Good livings could be made by learning a trade.

DeMille, by tracing the history demonstrates that our colleges, universities, and MBA programs of today are the natural extensions of those original craft/trade schools and apprenticeship programs. As people earn their MBA, they’re becoming great craftsman. In the language of business today, they’re learning the skills of management.

However, leadership is an art, not a skill. It still takes mentors, tutors, and subject matter experts spending personal time with individuals to help them develop their leadership skills.

But, the title of this blog post is about culture, not leadership. Why can’t you fix culture? Because culture develops out of great team work and leadership. Without the base of teams and leadership, culture can never sit at the top of the triangle.

If the culture of the company is not where it needs to be, taking a survey to “fix” the culture will never work. If a human being has lost their balance, running them through a test to see how their balance has improved or deteriorated every few months does nothing to fix the problem. The doctor will check to see if it’s a skeletal/muscular issue (team) or an inner ear sensing issue (leadership) first. After working on one or both of those, only then will the balance be rechecked.

Culture, like balance, can’t be fixed. Only the underlying, foundational issues can be fixed.

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