Executing in a Culture That Has You Stuck in the Middle
What is leadership really? The way I see it, leadership is about influencing other people to do what you need them to do so you can achieve the results you set out to achieve. Unless you think you can do it all your yourself … then there is no discussion.
Execution is all about getting results. So it’s the results that are important … not the leader.
And yet you as the leader need to get those results, so you need to focus on you being an effective leader. Sound paradoxical? Well it is! Being a powerful leader actually requires you to be humble, to let go of self-importance, to know that you don’t know it all but you’ll find the way, to shift the emphasis from being important ….. to standing up for what is important to you!
So what does this have to do with being stuck in the middle of a difficult culture?
As Paul has said, “culture by its very definition is huge, and not amenable to change. The culture can wear down the best of people. Moreover, taking on the culture as an army of one is mission impossible.”
But is it really impossible to execute and achieve the results you want in that culture?
The crux of the matter is the way you’re thinking, which guides your actions, which in turn impact the behavioral world around you.
What if you don’t take the culture on as an army of one, with your mission being to defeat it (a massive undertaking and likely impossible in the short or even medium term)? What if you were to shift your focus from changing the culture to changing yourself and how you think and function in the culture?
Yes. You are in the middle of a difficult culture. That’s the reality. However, whether you are stuck or not is up to you.
The Power of One
How you approach the situation is everything.
When you come down to it, we’re all alone. Of course, we are family members, friends, community members, team members, leaders in some situations, followers in others. But ultimately it is up to each of us alone to determine how we will react to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
It’s a matter of responsibility.
Life is tough and you frequently find yourself in very challenging situations. A difficult culture is one of those. So you can complain about it, view it as hopeless, and just go through the motions. After all, it’s not your fault. You didn’t create that culture ………
Or you can take responsibility for your situation and make a commitment to excel despite your circumstances.
Taking responsibility and making a commitment are extremely powerful. They can put you in touch with your own natural enthusiasm and free up your creativity to find solutions and resources that were not otherwise available.
You always have a choice. You can choose to go for what you want … or all the reasons why not to.
And nobody said it had to be easy.
Not easy, but making the leap to commit to excellence can be exhilarating. There is no feeling like going beyond your limits and showing yourself what you’re made of.
Begin in Your Own Corner
Start with your own department.
At Paul’s local branch of the United States Postal Service the manager really is stuck in the middle.
When Paul went online to the United States Postal Service website to forward his mail, nothing happened. Well, nothing except for a filled to overflowing mail box, waiting for him when he got home from being gone a couple of weeks. That was bad enough. The bigger problem was not getting the mail at the new place.
Fixing that problem required a trip to the local Post Office, waiting his turn in line, and getting an explanation: “The system doesn’t give us that information.”
The manager at the Post Office isn’t responsible for creating the culture or managing the IT system, but he is responsible for being stuck. He’s thinking, “I don’t get paid enough to solve these problems. I’m just a branch manager at a local post office.”
But what if he shifted his thinking?
He can choose to think, “I’m a local manager at the USPS. I know the Postal Service has problems, but that’s not going to stop me. This is my branch, and I’m going to make it the best darn branch in the country.”
Suppose he decides to take an in-depth look at the problems his branch is facing. He knows the IT system is not allowing execution to be at the level it should. Paul is certainly not the first person to experience difficulty getting his mail forwarded. What if the manager created his own local mail forwarding system, put up some posters in his branch to advertise it, and got his staff to tell customers about it and hand out a simple flyer showing the details?
What if he set up a suggestion box for his customers and actually followed up on their suggestions?
I’m betting that his branch would soon get great local media coverage which would create excitement and fuel an upward spiral for him and his staff, leading to even better execution.
So, produce amazing results in your own corner.
Create your own vision for your department. Make it short and focus on only a few key points. Include a simple strategy for how you plan to achieve it so everyone will know it’s possible. Present the vision to your team. Showing them you’re excited will get them excited …… and want to be part of it. They’ll all be aligned, ready to pull in the same direction.
Then execute. Get it done.
Keep it simple. Start with one element of the vision at a time. Make sure that everyone understands exactly what’s required in detail, and each person has the ability to do the task the way it needs to be done, and stay on top of it until it’s complete. Then tackle the next one, and the next ….. until they’ve all been achieved.
You Can Be the Beacon
Every grand scheme starts with a dream, but the dream itself is not enough. It takes courage and perseverance to stand alone in the middle of a massive culture of “it’s not my problem” and dare to buck the trend. As Ethel Merman famously belted out in a song from the Broadway play Gypsy, “Some people sit on their butts. They’ve got the dream, yeah, but not the guts”.
Yes, it’s tough. But it does get easier if you have the guts to push yourself past the first hurdle and just begin.
And it’s worth it.
Standing up for something you believe in deeply puts you in touch with who you really are. When you do that with humility and a sincere desire to make a difference and contribute to others, it engages people around you. It is contagious.
Making a difference is a core human value everyone has. When others see you do it, they can begin to think that maybe it’s possible for them to do it too.
…… And they want in.
That’s how the snowball effect happens.
You can be the beacon that lights the way.
And ….. who knows? You might even change the culture!
Edward Aronson, PhD
Originally published July 2016