This post is the third in a series about the courage that leadership requires. These principles were taken from a talk that Bill Hybels gave at the Global Leadership Summit in August. Here are the links to part 1 and part 2.
One of my favorite things about our Kenyan office is their ability to throw surprise parties! Birthdays are generally undervalued in Kenya and most Kenyans would have a hard time telling you their age. Our Kenyan leadership wanted to change that because our staff matters so much to us, and at least one day a year, they deserve to be celebrated, honored, and slightly embarrassed. Therefore, they started a tradition that has been going on for a couple years. Each time that an office staff member has a birthday, they bake a cake and come up with a creative way to surprise them. You’d think that these surprises would become predictable, but each birthday is met with great excitement and laughter. Our staff are some of the most engaged and loyal people in the world, and I believe it is because they feel like family. These outrageous birthday celebrations are now part of our culture, and they reinforce our organizational belief that people matter.
I share this illustration with you because the third principle that Bill Hybels shared with us is this:
Leaders must possess the courage to build a fantastic culture.
But, Bill also added that it may take even more courage for the leader to accept his responsibility in creating an unhealthy or disengaged culture. We don’t drift towards cultures of alignment, engagement, and collaboration. Unfortunately, if we are not intentional as leaders, our organizational cultures will be more defined by mistrust, politics, and blame.
For four years now, my team and I have worked remotely, occasionally meeting in a local coffee shop to give updates or work on projects. That has been a really difficult environment to build culture in. I have struggled to encourage continuous learning and growth. Work – life boundaries have been hard to establish so many of us have bordered on being workaholics. It has been hard to collaborate and innovate to the extent that I would desire.
Thankfully, as of January 1st, our team will now be working three days a week in an office. As we make this transition, I look to our Kenyan team who have modeled how to create a thriving culture, and the illustration above is just one example of that. There are many things that I want to be true of our culture:
- I want to build a community where each team member knows that others truly care for them.
- I want people to always be learning and growing personally and professionally.
- I want to celebrate our small wins as well as our big victories.
- I want team members to help hold their peers accountable to our high standard of excellence.
- I want people to assume the best about others and choose to trust instead of blame.
- I want prayer to be at the core of our daily disciplines because we need God’s grace and provision to accomplish this work.
These are all great aspirations, but if these things don’t come to pass, I know that I alone am accountable. Whether I failed to articulate our values clearly or failed to model them myself, I am responsible. As Bill Hybels said, “Culture will only ever be as healthy as the leader wants it to be.”
Leaders, have the courage to candidly assess your culture to see how healthy or toxic it may be. Then, have the courage to change it if necessary.