Jan
08

Is Your Culture Big Enough?

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Leadership Development
Is Your Culture Big Enough?

Do you know that some fish, including sharks, will grow only to the proportion of the container you keep them in? Seems sort of obvious, but what this means is, depending on the size of the aquarium, you could end up with a mature 7-inch shark.

The literature I read stated that in these situations the fish adapt to the capacity of the environment offered to them. At least that’s a myth that has propagated – that this is a reasonable thing to do.

In researching why fish will mature, but conform to the size of the containers they are housed in, experts say it is due to stunting. The dimensions of the environment they are offered limit their size.

They could grow larger if not confined. This means you are not going to end up with a healthy 7-inch shark that will live a long natural life. One expert even described this as cruel.

Is The Size Of Your Culture Stunting Your Employees?

A colleague recently recounted a story about a meeting with the new CEO at his company. The CEO shared his principles with employees. What the CEO did not do was engage employees about what those principles meant to them and for them in the culture he hoped to establish.

They were not asked how they were interpreting the principles. It appeared the CEO was not interested in a two-way interaction. Essentially the CEO set up the employees to play it safe and literally contain themselves. Employee growth would be limited to the size of the environment he offered.

Do You Want Growth or Do You Want To Be Right?

I have run into leaders who were not interested in a mutual exchange of ideas about principles, expectations or culture. They saw questions as a challenge to their authority or experience or character, or something.

In one case when I suggested that a dialog with employees might bring more clarity and buy-in, well…my suggestion was met with disdain. The leader said it would be coddling employees. He quickly experienced the consequences of his own stunted mindset, thank goodness, and was promptly replaced.

How do you make sure those who look to you for leadership experience a culture big enough to accommodate their growth into healthy individuals, performing at full potential?

What do you believe helps people perform to their fullest potential? Please join the conversation below…
Photo Credit: Castaldo Studio

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Page Cole  |  03 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Mary,
It jumped off the page at me… that would be a “page” attacking a “Page”… HA! This statement is what I’m talking about…

“What the CEO did not do was engage employees about what those principles meant to them and for them in the culture he hoped to establish.” I’ve lived on both sides of this exchange, and what motivates me to be a better leader of my teams is remembering what it was like when my boss treated us like pawns in his vision, not fellow dreamers.

What would advice would you give the team members if they have a leader like this? How should they address it? Should they address it?

I don’t want guppies on my team… I want JAWS… Thanks for the reminder to keep expanding my culture!

John Smith  |  03 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Mary – great post and a powerful visualization:)

This whole concept of “stunting” is thought-provoking and the examples you used highlight one important way leaders can stunt someone’s growth: One-way communication. If a leader is not interested in or capable of engaging in dialogues around key aspects of the organization or business in a culture of mutual respect, they should not last very long.

Unfortunately, my experiences tell me that these type of leaders exist in far too many situations.

It seems to me that when we engage in open discussions around our mutual concerns and issues, we are growing our culture … making the tank bigger, so to speak.

The ideal might be when we allow our culture to be so inclusive and engage everyone’s best efforts, that we outgrow any container … think of the possibilities then:)

I think that leaders who want to grow their culture to grow their employees have to really take the lead by modeling open and honest communication. Sometimes employees are afraid to grow, maybe because of past experiences, and sometimes they just need encouragement.

Either way, the leader has to actually lead by example …

Appreciate this thoughtful and sort of inspiring post:)

John

Mary C. Schaefer  |  05 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Thanks Page for your comment! I love this: “what motivates me to be a better leader of my teams is remembering what it was like when my boss treated us like pawns in his vision, not fellow dreamers.” – that’s a blog post in itself. Go for it!

What would advice would I give the team members if they have a leader like this? How should they address it? Should they address it? – Answering last question first… only if you think there’s a chance they will listen, and even more importantly, that they won’t hold it against you. Aside from that, I’ve always found the best approach is to get the boss to talk more, which could sound like,
– Can you elaborate on what that would mean for an employee at my level?
– How would you want me to interpret this and apply it to my everyday work?
– How have you seen this work for you in the past with other organizations/teams you’ve led?

If you are worried the boss will get defensive, throwing this in (only if it is sincere) at the right moment helps: “Please know that I’m asking you these questions because I want to do a good job (or maybe) be clear on what’s asked of me and deliver on that.”
(http://bit.ly/mary-follow-on-LI)

If you are a boss, and you are worried no one is speaking up, one way to create a breakthrough is to work up to asking questions that are easy for an employee to answer about how things are going. Grow their trust in you when they see you aren’t overreacting to the truth. A leader can tell people they are willing to hear the truth and that it is safe to share it, but they have to demonstrate it first. In fact, they may have to create opportunities to demonstrate it, as I described earlier in this paragraph.

More than you wanted, I’m sure, Page. But thanks for making me think how to take this discussion even further!

Mary C. Schaefer  |  05 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Thanks for your comment, John. I took this away:” I think that leaders who want to grow their culture to grow their employees have to really take the lead by modeling open and honest communication. Sometimes employees are afraid to grow, maybe because of past experiences, and sometimes they just need encouragement.”

I coach managers all the time on how to be leaders. It’s interesting that they want to demonstrate leadership, but don’t always know how. They want engagement, but don’t know to handle belligerence or anything but agreement. Too many managers just keep talking because they are afraid they can’t handle what they hear back. What’s a recipe for disengagement. The only way they CAN get that open and honest communication you mention is to learn to deal with whatever they hear back. http://www.reimaginework.com/stop-talking/

Thanks for responding!

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