[Client issue: Executive Team knows culture is important, there’s a vision for a thriving culture where the values are alive and thriving. But, while it looks great on paper, it’s not really showing up in reality. There’s a disconnect between the Executive Vision and the way work gets done. Tension and wheels spinning happens throughout the company, or there’s only a few people that show up as leaders—rather than a culture of leadership.]

First things first on this one. Invest in leadership development.


Whether it’s internal development or bringing someone in from the outside, just do it. Never underestimate the value of developing your people.

According to research done by Deloitte, “high-performing companies spend 1.5 to 2 times more on leadership than other companies, and reap results that are triple or quadruple the levels of their competitors.”

Let’s put it this way, a whole lot of people who ended up in managerial roles (or higher) didn’t necessarily get there because they were strictly good leaders.

A lot of your people are great, fantastic doers. It’s up to the organization to help them discover how to lead powerfully inside the company.

Leadership is

Sure, we have innate leadership qualities. But a lot of us don’t even know what they are.

And everyone can learn to be a better leader–it’s a lifelong process.

Okay, we got that out of the way.

A lot of times we’ll work with clients who are skeptical of bringing in outside resources to help with developing leaders.

The last time they hired a consultant, there was a two day workshop, some handouts and some meetings at the top, maybe even some reorganizing.

But the ideas didn’t really stick.

In order for an effective cultural transformation to occur, the kind where there really is leadership arising at all levels of the organization and innovation is starting to occur on the front lines, any leadership initiatives need to be self propagating.

self propagating: a system of tools, practices and “ways of doing things” that is taught and coached inside and throughout the organization

If you want innovative leadership, you need to have innovative leadership development.

Your leadership development efforts should include clear sets of tools and processes for people to understand how to work together in an innovative way.

Hierarchical accountabilities alone don’t cut it in an organization that knows it needs to be readily maneuverable to survive and thrive.

There needs to be a shared language and understanding of the tools of high performing teams, the tools of listening and feedback, the tools of alignment and prioritization.

These are like learning scales to a musician: to play jazz, you need to know the fundamentals.

Another analogy: to win an NCAA basketball championship, the University of North Carolina (my alma mater) spends the summer months drilling basics (over and over again).

It’s those fundamentals that will turn into an elegant powerhouse come March.

These tools should be easy to teach. The easier the tools are to teach to others, the higher the self propagation.

(And the less reliance on outside people you need.)

We’re not looking for Harvard theory here. We want to be in action, and we want results.

Be sure your tools of high performance are the kinds of practices that anyone can teach and learn.

That’s how they become self-propagating.