Leadership and Culture
Managers and leaders are not the same thing. While managers look to do things right, leaders look to do the right thing (Peter Drucker, and Warren Bennis, as quoted in Stephen R. Covey, 1989). Ambiguity and signaling are a classic symptom of a managerial culture, whereas leaders have the ability to tolerate "aggressive interchange", have high emotional involvement and encourage emotional relationships (Zaleznik, 1977). Leaders are not afraid to confront issues that matter for the right reasons and know how to manage the emotional culture of their workplace. A quality that is rare since work has historically not been about emotional health.
"Managers relate to people according to the role they play in a sequence of events or in a decision-making process, while leaders, who are concerned with ideas, relate in more intuitive and empathetic ways" (Zaleznik, 1977)
The organisations that look to remain "relevant, competitive and deliver positive results, all the while being "human" by adapting to the needs of their people and communities" are very rare (Sanicola, 2015). They are rare probably because they would need to be run by leaders as Zaleznik describes them instead of managers to "adapt to the needs fo their people" and not the other way around.
Can anyone in a leadership position facilitate Culture Design?
Culture Design done by employees requires a very specific kind of leader. A vulnerable, emotionally intelligent and accepting of uncertainty kind of leader.

What is 'uncertainty acceptance'?

In an environment exhibiting high levels of uncertainty acceptance "schedules are flexible, hard work is undertaken when necessary but not for its own sake, precision and punctuality do not come naturally, innovation is not seen as threatening." (Hofstede, 2011) Being explicit about uncertainty at work is beneficial. Framing work as a learning problem where there is "enormous uncertainty ahead and enormous interdependence" is one of the three ways to create Psychological Safety, the number one quality of performing and effective teams at Google (Edmonson, 2014).

A 'Beta Leader' would be comfortable with uncertainty would be the 'Beta Leader' (Burbank, 2015)

Dana Ardi, self proclaimed "corporate anthropologist," studies corporate culture and "how the people in them shape their communities." Ardi talks about transforming the business world from an "alpha male" and "top down" hierarchy to a flat, "socially networked" business of "Beta leaders", a place where I think Culture Design would be possible and higher levels of uncertainty acceptance would be tolerated. A 'Beta Leader' is in her words: an "authentic, connected, self-aware, mindful, creative, collaborative, and humble, designing innovative, happy, ecosystems of strategically curated teams of diverse, empowered employees".

The problem is that softer skills are very difficult to learn when the person has become addicted to "Alpha type" behaviour and has adopted a "fixed mindset". Dan Bobinsky a behavioural analyst confirms this learning hurdle exists. He found that "Type A" personalities (or Alpha leaders according to Dana Ardi) would need to get past their fears of learning "something better" than what they're using at the moment (Bobinsky, 2009). He describes "Type A"s as people who push their teams to work faster, display anger at insignificant events, criticize employees openly, need to win and tend towards impatience (Bobinsky, 2009).

Bobinsky finds that leaders are less "likely to see the value of interpersonal skills" and resist changing behaviours that have brought them results in the past.

Not seeing the value in interpersonal skills will be a challenge for leaders who want to connect with their team. "The ability to feel connected is why we're here"' (Brown, 2010). Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, started her research over a decade ago and six months into it she noticed a pattern: the constant appearance of shame in people's stories. Shame is "the fear of disconnection", of having something shameful that people will find out about us and stop loving us for. It is the thought of "I am not enough" and "I am not worthy of love".

Brown found that in 'order for connection to happen we have to allow ourselves to be really seen', to be really vulnerable. How can an 'Alpha leader' let himself be seen if it is all about command and control; a one directional approach. Employees are unlikely going to bring their full self to work if their leader doesn't (Laloux, 2014). Frederic Laloux is of the opinion that employees are unlikely to show up and follow a leader that hides behind a professional mask and does not carry a "strong moral authority" in and outside of work.

After almost a decade studying shame and fear Brown saw a split: those who have worthiness vs those who struggle for it. Those who had it 'believed they were worthy of love and belonging', those who didn't lived in a culture of 'scarcity' and struggled.

The leadership challenges for Culture Design:

  1. A majority of leaders (70%) are Alpha males (Ludeman and Erlandson, 2004) who don't see the value in soft skills such as emotional intelligence (Bobinsky, 2009)
  2. If Alpha males have a need, they are unlikely to ask for help (Ludeman and Erlandson, 2004) and if they do the Alpha leader coach needs to have "experience standing up to bullies" (Ludeman and Erlandson, 2004)
  3. We need leaders that are willing to connect, which in other words is to be the polar opposite of an Alpha leader: vulnerable and accepting of uncertainty.
«Those who do not have a functional business persona distinct from their "true" personality will either go mad or become the CEO»
(Bing, 2014)
Vulnerable leaders can support Culture Design

Alpha leaders have been numbing vulnerability for decades and we still see them rise to the top of organizations today (Bobinsky, 2009)... they also numb joy, happiness and meaning (Brown, 2010). Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher found that when numbing negative emotions, we are numbing the good emotions too. As humans we do not have the ability to selectively stop feeling one set of emotions over another.

By making the uncertain certain, perfecting our lives, pretending that what we do doesn't have an effect on people we are numbing vulnerability. Business sometimes will be uncertain, our successful lives sometimes won't be and most definitely, everything we do does have an effect on other people. Being vulnerable, I think, is and will be the core strength of leaders who are capable of connecting with their teams and engage them. Vulnerability is not the opposite of strength, these qualities are polarities that reinforce each other (Laloux, 2014).

Being vulnerable is not easy though. Having tried it myself in front of several strangers - I can say it is very difficult and takes an emotional toll I personally did not see coming.

I'm referring to my talk on culture for SheSays Manchester (see picture below). During the one I shared my journey from learned and adopted life and work values into bespoke values I chose for myself.
As you can see in the slides below, the talk had a lot about my personal life and I found myself sharing and being open about it with a room full of strangers! The feeling was new and overwhelming. It helped me understand that being vulnerable is a big ask in a world where the easiest thing to do is judge.
«I don't think engagement can happen without vulnerability [...] If you think dealing with issues like worthiness and authenticity and vulnerability are not worthwhile because there are more pressing issues [...] you are sadly, sadly mistaken. It underpins everything»
Brene Brown
The power of vulnerability TEDx Houston (Brown, 2010)
Facilitator-leaders can support Culture Design

When working together and defining the teams culture, a group of people do not need to be told what to do or what the best direction is. Rather, they will benefit from a Culture Design facilitator that can guide them through the process milestones into designing a culture that suits them.

The facilitator-leader came up in conversation with Daniel Fogg, CEO of Buffalo Grid. He thinks that leaders who facilitate have mastered one of the "best styles of leadership" yet one of the "most difficult" ones.

But, is it possible to achieve great things without leaders though?

Taking a quick look At Zappos seems to prove so. The company has adopted the self-managing model of "Holocracy" where teams are formed based on project needs. There are no leaders to tell people what to do.
Holocracy: a self managing structure where there are no bosses
[Source: linkedin]
Inclusive leaders can support Culture Design

Globalization, mobility, new behaviors, technology and millennial demands have changed the way we live and work (Morgan, 2015). Nowadays and moving forward we will see an increase of remote teams and freelancers cooperating with companies across the world. Global mobility and faster broadbands will bridge the difficulty for a team in Shangai to work with a team in Lima, like Northern Quarter (my culture design agency startup) works. Northern Quarter was born in Manchester (UK) to Qing Qing Chen (from China and the US), Trishal Ghelani (from Singapore), Dominic (from Manchester) and myself.

An inclusive leader will understand that his team members are different in nature and have different past experiences. She will understand that they have different needs and spend time trying to discover and work on facilitating ways to meet them.

Northern Quarter, a culture design agency based on three different time zones
Why are leaders in
charge of culture?
Culture is high on the list of company concerns as research found on a global survey of 3,300 business and HR leaders by Deloitte Consulting. In this section we are going to look at what and why leaders are taking full responsibility of culture design across the industry.

More and more companies are noticing that happy employees means business returns, attracting and retaining top talent. This is why tasking and training the leaders with culture development is becoming more and more of a business target.

Nowadays, anyone can comment on a company's bad set of values within minutes online and reach millions of views. An employee can post his opinions on the company's internal politics online for the world to see in only 120 characters (however, if tweeting from America, remember that "the Constitution doesn't apply to private employers, so employees can't claim the right to freedom of speech" - basically you might get fired for hate-tweeting in America (Hill, 2011).

Gareth Jones, author of "Why Should Anyone Work Here?", "The Character of a Corporation" and "How Your Culture Can Make or Break Your Business" states in an interview about his latest book that employees are 'deeply unengaged'. He moves onto saying that organizational culture cannot be a fad, since it is something very 'real' and 'important'. He refers to the very mediatic Volkswagen case (the company cheated pollution emission tests and caused its first quarterly loss in 15 years due to this) as an example of how issues about culture, values and norms are very much not a fad.
Volkswagen sees market share drop after breaking public trust. [Source:]

The same concern keeps coming up again and again in industry forums and online articles. When a startup company scales too fast it struggles with structural problems if the culture does not scale at the same pace (Harrison, 2015). For this reason, leaders of all kinds have their eyes on culture since it almost means the survival or death of their company when scaling.
"I think largely the reason that the Facebook culture scaled is that no single person owns it [...] It's distributed across the entire organisation.

If we have 10,000 people who work at Facebook, you would have 10,000 people tell you that they own the culture."
Lori Goler
VP of people, in charge of both human resources and hiring
(McCracken, 2015)
Companies get built, start producing and then have a cultural dilemma to sustain their culture because of growth (Sadler, 2015). Facebook's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, thinks he's managed to scale his culture as fast as his company. He says that it happened thanks to the process over time of "building a culture where people think about the mission in the same way" he does (McCracken, 2015).

Lori Goler, VP of people at Facebook believes they were able to scale quickly because no one owned the culture completely (McCracken, 2015).
What hinders leaders in designing culture?
Their position of power

Being in power has a big influence on the self perception of leaders. Ego, as Murninghan (2012) explains, is a problem we all struggle with, but for leaders it can be particularly complicated since leadership is a 'social activity' and one that involves having power. Leaders depend on the interaction with others to do their job. A leader cannot lead without a team, their role demands to pay extra attention to shifting their attention from themselves onto the team. If a leader alienates his subordinates, its unlikely anyone will want to be part of the culture he designs.
Sadly, most managers and even CEOs become bosses, not leaders. They wield power instead of transforming themselves, their workers, and their organization
Carol Dweck
(Dweck, 2010)
Not having the full picture

Leaders may have arrived to a misinformed conclusion of what their team really needs. Douglas McGordon, father of the X and Y Theory, concluded that "behind every managerial decision are assumptions about human nature and behaviour". This means that behind every cultural decision made by leaders are assumptions of who the employees are and how they behave. Employees can control how they behave but not the assumptions their leaders are making.

Adding onto this concern is Fredric Laloux, author of 'Reinventing Organisations', who says that if the leader views and treats his team with mistrust, the team will try to "game the system". Being subject to "controls, rules and punishments" has this reaction in people and the leader unfortunately will believe his views to be true (Laloux, 2014). If a leader instead see's employees with trust, the team will return trust with responsible behaviors.

Is there anything that could help leaders design culture?
There is an emerging industry that might help leaders design culture with a better understanding of their teams and leaving their biases out of the mix. The culture diagnostic and feedback tool industry offer mobile and real-time tools to measure, evaluate and collect real-time input from employees. These tools are "disrupting the$billion market for employee engagement and culture surveys."

This new industry includes companies like CultureAmp, TinyHR, BlackbookHR, Globoforce,,, OfficeVibe, Waggl, Wellevue, RelatedMatters, and hundreds of other apps that measure employee engagement and gather feedback.

These companies still use a tone of voice that seems directed at leaders and removed from the emotional, behavioral and environmental realities of culture. For example, the description of BlackbookHR's app called 'Sense' on their Linkedin page reads: "...Sense is a People Intelligence platform that combines logic-driven survey intelligence, real-time People Analytics and a employee engagement engine" (Linkedin, 2016). It seems that the approach remains top-down and not bottom-up, it is still for those who perceive employees as 'resources' not as 'people'.
What might help us all design culture?
Answer: having the right mindset and adopting the
leadership qualities that facilitate Culture Design
Leaders are hindered by a 'Type A' behaviour that comes from a set of beliefs and thoughts. Having acknowledged in Chapter 2 that culture is in the eye of the beholder and seeing that one single persons mindset (the leader) can hinder the whole process of culture design, it is time to ask the big question:

What kind of mindset do we need to design culture?

Many of the responses from the survey's said that the individual at work is responsible for their own happiness. If this is the case, why isn't everyone happy at work and engagement levels aren't high worldwide if its up to the individual?

It's because our minds are tightly connected to our behaviours and sometimes we let our fears take over our behaviours instead of our values - if we have them. Unfortunately until 2012, academic and empirical studies have not really researched how emotions (which are triggered by thoughts) impact our decision making.

Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.
- Ghandi (smntitus, 2016)
The work of Richard Bandler focused on getting that control over the mind back (Helford Training, 2000). Bandler studied how the language of the mind could be used to drive behaviours that would consistently yield success. He proposed that thoughts, feelings and emotions are not facts but rather things that humans do (Helford Training, 2000). His term NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) is now part of the $10 Billion self-help industry (O'Keefe, 2014). If we were to really control our thoughts and reprogram them to feel engaged with what we do or evaluate whether or not doing what we do is important to us, then we would all be happy at work, the problem is we don't evaluate our mindset as often as we should.

Empowering employees to control their own mindsets is only half of the challenge. The other half is getting leaders on board too. To design culture, a person needs to understand that Culture Design is a hands-on process that will involve learning and growing beyond their existing qualities. Culture Design is a challenge.

Carol Dweck coined the term "Growth mindset" (Dweck, 2014) which means believing that the basic qualities one has (intelligence, talent…etc) are just the starting point and that they can be developed. This person believes in the "power of yet", the reality that we have not developed into our goals "yet", but that we will through growth and learning. For example, if someone with a growth mindset feels stuck and unengaged at work, they will recognise that Culture Design is a process and will believe in the possibility of becoming engaged through developing themselves and the culture around them.

Advice from the self help industry, which has been making billions in the last decade comes from Tony Robbins. Robbins is a titan in the self help industry, and recently was said to be 'yelling' to leaders at "Dreamforce' (the annual conference put on by software powerhouse the following message:

"You want to get someone engaged, you engage!" Robbins went. "That's your job as a leader." And if you want to reach people, Robbins believes, one of the best ways to do so is to change your "state"—physically and emotionally (O'Keefe, 2014).

A sub theme of effort and will to improve oneself is evident in Dweck, Robbins and Bandler. Their theories explain why individuals are not happy at work: if leaders are supposed to be designing cultures that make us happy, there is no pressure on the employee to even think of what mindset they have on. Being capable of big personal change seems to require going against the grain and exiting the comfort zone. It could be that if we want to design our own cultures from anywhere in the organisation, its quintessential to believe we can do it and will ourselves into action. It will be equally important to change the way we think (from 'fixed' to 'growth' mindsets), not only what we do.

When a person in turn has a "fixed" mindset, according to Carol Dweck, individuals are fixated in their initial impressions of situations and are not sensitive to improvement, they reject learning and growth. Fixed mindsets will "stop themselves from admitting and defining their deficiencies" (Dweck, 2014), blocking all chance of self discovery, developing resilience and a love for learning - all crucial in the culture design process. No growth mindset, no happiness at work.

The mindset challenges for Culture Design:

  1. People think individuals are responsible for their own happiness but culture and engagement are still an industry concern and being addressed top-down (survey, 2015; Gallup organization, Deloitte, 2015)
  2. Culture Design will start with Mindset Design and its a job that has to be done individually and at that person's pace. Our minds control our behaviour, however controlling the mind and adapting it to a "growth" mindset is a deliberate, effort driven exercise - it does not come natural to everyone. (O'Keefe, 2014; Dweck, 2014)
  3. Having the right mindset is half the challenge. The other half of the challenge will be to learn how to use "conscious communication"(Chopra, 2016), "non violent communication"(Rosenberg, no date) and feedback models to express ourselves with the team and say exactly what happened, what we felt, why we felt that way and ask for what we need.
In the future we will need to have less managers than ever. Instead we will need leaders who are able to manage the emotions of their teams, handle confrontation and engage in meaningful relationships with their staff.

Vulnerable, facilitating and inclusive leaders are the ones most fit to help their teams design culture. They are aware of their own and the potential shortcomings of their teams, they are not afraid of being vulnerable (although its a hard task). They know that when designing culture they don't have to have the last word but instead let their employees own the culture too. They also know to be inclusive, which is a great skill to have in a more diverse and global workplace. Having psychological safety and a growth mindset create the right environment for Culture Design.

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