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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #155: How Do You Build a Courageous Culture?

September 23, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #155: How Do You Build a Courageous Culture?

What kind of culture does your organization have? Today, Chris and Perry talk about how understanding the 4 Dimensions of Culture can help you move your team from committed to courageous.

Want to enhance your organization’s leadership culture? Learn more about our 5 Levels of Leadership private workshops HERE – Offered virtually and on-site to meet your organization’s health guidelines.

Download our Learning Guide for this podcast!

Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining us once again. Perry and I are excited about last week and the next couple of weeks as we talk about new content, new what we call leadership competencies and areas of development for organizations that we’ve partnered with and developed some new content. Just as a reminder, if you want to learn more about that, or if you want to download the show notes for today and the guide that Perry created for us, don’t hesitate to visit, and you can leave a form and/or request some more information and we’ll follow up with you in regards to that.

Well, we talked about last week, a new content piece with Jeff Henderson and the FOR content. Today, we’re going to talk about and the title for today is how do you build a courageous culture? I’m like, “Man, that sounds good.” That sounds like a movie we all want to be a part of or take in. And I think we all want a culture like that. We say, “Well, what are you guys talking about?” Let me give you a little context behind this. I think just to set this up, it’ll help use as we talk through today’s content. We had an organization that we were partnering with that was in the manufacturing space and they have been a partner of ours for a couple of years. We really helped build the foundation of a leadership culture, built common language and the beliefs and behaviors. We’ll begin to see some shift with the culture there around leadership.

They came to us and they said, “Hey, we have a problem inside our organization. We’re going to have to go a different direction next year because we really need to invest in really helping our people around safety.” We’re like, “Yeah, no problem. We can recommend you to somebody. Talk to us more about how is there a way we can help you off the foundation that we’ve built?” Greg Cagle, one of our executive facilitators and coaches is a lead on that account. We began having conversations. What we found was that they didn’t have a safety problem. Matter of fact, their safety records were really good. They had a little bit of a culture problem. We said, “Hey, can we build off of what we’ve already helped you guys with in regards to leadership and culture, and really gear this towards safety and how do we help the culture really bring that to the front and to be aware of it?”

Out of that, came this content piece that was called Courageous Culture. We built it for them, specific to the manufacturing industry, but then our team got in a room and we said, “Hey, there are a lot of organizations that could really improve their culture, could have a courageous culture.” We stepped back and did that, and so that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Again, this is Perry and I being learners. We sat in a room and we experienced it. We were like, “Man, this is our takeaway and this is some good stuff.” We just want to share that with you today.

Perry Holley:    We’ve done a lot. You and I talking a lot about helping organizations develop a culture, a winning culture and a leadership culture. This was really an eye opener for me. I thought the way Greg framed this up was exceptionally good. It was built originally for a manufacturing organization where safety is of great importance, but I took away a number of things I think could fit for any organization. One, I like the way Greg defined culture. We can always think about what does it feel like to work here? How we do things here, those types of things. Greg said, at the most basic level, that culture was formed by how people do three things. How they think, act and interact. I found that that simple thought to be very thought provoking when you consider your own organization or team. How are people thinking, how are they acting and how are they interacting? It’ll tell you a lot about what’s going on in your culture.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. They are simple questions, but we actually had some good conversation around it because I think what are you thinking about as an individual inside your organization? Pretty simple. What actions then are you taking? What’s the behavior? Then the one we really had a good conversation about to really unpack was okay, well, how are we interacting with each other, and what does that look like and what’s the difference between the actions that we’re taking and then the interactions we’re having with our people? When you think about culture, and people often say, “What’s it feel like to work at whatever, XYZ?” In essence, what they’re asking you is what is the culture inside that organization because what does it feel like to work here? That third question, no doubt, was the most revealing for me about the culture, about how they interact with each other.

Perry Holley:    I found that when you think about how people interact with each other, I was reminded of our inclusive leadership course, where we talked about people feeling… If you’re an inclusive leader, then people on your team feel safe. They feel welcome. They feel valued. They feel like they belong here. That’s a real culture statement as well. Another great question that Greg posed in Courageous Culture was who is responsible for culture? We said, “Well, who’s responsible for how people think, act and interact?” Leaders are. Then we said, “Well, then who’s a leader? How do we define that?” Well, people with influence. Who should be developing this influence? Well, all of us should be doing that. All of a sudden, you think culture, it flows from the top. The leaders set the tone on how people, think and interact, but it really is all of us are involved in that culture development.

Chris Goede:     I think he even posed a statement that said leaders, we know we can’t be everywhere at all times. If you say you’re the one that’s responsible for culture, we got a problem, a big problem. That was just another little eye-opening thing for me to begin thinking about and that is so true. I think you just explained it really well. All of us are responsible for this courageous culture. When we were going through this and he was leading us through this new content piece, a big takeaway for me was this the four dimensions of a culture.

Perry Holley:    I thought so too.

Chris Goede:     Now, we’re talking about safety, so this could be in education facilities. This could be in healthcare. This could be in manufacturing. It doesn’t matter, but I was like, “Oh, yeah. No, there are four dimensions of the culture.” This is what culture looks like. Everybody’s responsible for it. Now, let’s talk about the fact that there are really four dimensions to it and he’s kind of built this out for us. What we’d like to do is just let’s talk about them and give them to you, make some notes and then think about this in regards to your leadership, your team, your organization. The lowest dimension, or maybe the one at the bottom of where you start…

Perry Holley:    By the way, we had a good picture of this. I put it in the Learner Guide, so if you want to see this picture as Chris is describing this in the Learner Guide at I think the picture helped me a lot to see-

Chris Goede:     Perfect.

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Perry Holley:    It is almost like a funnel going up and it’s at this lowest level of culture, .

Chris Goede:     Perfect. Being down there at the bottom, it has a negative effect on the culture when we talk about it being complacent, is the name of this dimension of this culture. We’ve all been there before. We’ve seen it happen where we rest on yesterday’s success. We’re just along for the ride. We’re waiting for our paychecks on Friday and we’re okay with just maintaining status quo. In regards to safety and where we went with this content in the organization, you can imagine the problems that would happen here.

Instead of being proactive and preventing and staying sharp, you just are reacting to issues and you, again, just resting on yesterday’s success. What’s interesting, if you remember just a couple minutes ago, I talked about the organization that we first partnered with to develop this content. They had great safety, but they became complacent in some areas. Unfortunately, the reason they had to go up to this training was because an accident happened because of some complacency. This is how we came up with the bottom on there. Listen, as I mentioned a minute ago, this is a problem for culture in non-manufacturing organizations as well. I think about it inside our organization. If we have people that are becoming complacent, it is a level three or a production killer inside your culture.

Perry Holley:    Well, a lot of the organizations we work with right now are having the best years they’ve ever had. I ask them, “What is your biggest concern?” Complacency, because success begets complacency. Look what we did, and we’re all looking at yesterday and not tomorrow,

Chris Goede:     What’s that statement that they say where good habits are developed in bad times.

Perry Holley:    .

Chris Goede:     Bad habits are developed where we become complacent in good times.

Perry Holley:    That’s exactly right. The next dimension going up the funnel there of this courageous culture is called compliant. You had the complacent, now up to compliant. The level of compliancy is really driven by process, procedure. You try to avoid mistakes, follow the rules, just keep doing what you’re doing in that safety environment that we were mentioning. This is about having checklists and following the rules, doing what you’re told, but not really owning safety as a value. It’s just a checklist type of a thing. I think about this in non-manufacturing environments and some of our other corporate clients about a compliant culture where how will people think, act and interact based on their own self-interest? It really is a rule-following, process-driven type of a culture. You’re going to always have a compliance component. You have to. There are compliant things. We’re not by any means saying that-

Chris Goede:     Go off the rails.

Perry Holley:    … you leave these and go to the top. No, you always have a point of that, but if you’re completely 100% a compliant culture, it’s going to drive a problem with progressing, with change management, with anything that gets away from the rules and the process that we have.

Chris Goede:     The other thing I thought, too, about this was how many organizations, how many situations, how many leaders have you been a part of where it’s like, because I said so? You become compliant because it’s like because I said so versus having conversations and dialogue around the why behind that checklist, or the why behind this and being okay with that because otherwise, if you’re not doing that, it is going to be strictly a complaint. Now, do we need to have pieces of that? Absolutely. Like you said, there are things that we have to be compliant to, but I think there’s ways to go about it.

The next one up in the funnel that you’ll see on the notes that Perry created for us of culture in this courageous model is committed culture. When we talk about people think, act and interact in a way that shows that they are committed to a certain set of values and the goals that the organization has established. This is where I think we talk about discretionary effort and we talk about people being productive because of the fact that they are wanting to be there, wanting to be a part of the team, wanting to follow their leader. I think this is where you get that committed culture inside the organization.

Perry Holley:    It’s a lot of energy that goes . You think about an energy of a compliant culture, energy of a complacent culture, now an energy of a committed culture.

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    That’s really-

Chris Goede:     You just feel the difference.

Perry Holley:    That leaves us the fourth dimension of culture under this courageous culture and that that is about courageousness. It’s a culture where people think, act and interact driven by purpose. You think they understand the why. In the safety environment, that means… I just loved it when he communicated this was saying what’s the difference between a committed culture under safety and a courageous culture? Really is in a courageous safety environment. I look out for you, you look out for me. It’s much more than following rules and procedures, which would be compliancy. It’s about having the courage to confront each other when those rules or procedures are not being followed. He had some fantastic examples about you seeing something that somebody is not being compliant and they’re not even committed to the values, but you had the courage to speak out and to hold each other… Because your biggest value is seeing your colleagues go home safe from work today.

Chris Goede:     That’s right. Love that.

Perry Holley:    In a non-manufacturing environment. I think this is also important where people think, act and interact with a bigger purpose in mind. I think in a high performance environment where, really, how we help each other. We care for each other. We have trust in each other. We also challenge each other and look out for each other. You think what a cool environment that would be to know that in whatever effort we’re making, for whatever product or service that we provide, that we are in it together and that measure of trust is at a level of courageousness to step in, be vulnerable, help each other, express weakness, ask for help. I know that my colleagues, that we support each other in a courageous way.Chris Goede:     Well, what I love about what you just said and I think is very true with this model, as we lay this out, these four dimensions of culture for you, is just like in the 5 Levels of Leadership that Perry and I have talked about, you’re on different levels with different people all the time. Matter of fact, you actually will lean on different levels. For example, let’s say that Perry and I have a level four relationship with each other. At times, Perry may have looked at mem and he does often with the title of the podcast and says, “That is what you’re going to do.” Because of our relationship, because of the trust there, I say yes and then he makes me stumble over the title of the podcast.

Similar into these four dimensions of the culture that Greg has brought to light and helped this organization with… Which, by the way, the reason we’re so passionate about it, we are 18 months into this organization and the feedback and the testimonies were here from just the aha moments are unbelievable. This has resonated extremely well with them, but when we talk about the fact that there are these four different dimensions, we want you to know, just like the five levels, that you never leave a previous level behind either. Sometimes as a leader, you have to go to different levels to lead in certain situations. With trust, you can do that, but also you just don’t become a level three leader and you leave behind the fact that you need to connect with your people.

It’s the same thing here. We can have this, this courageous culture, but you’re also going to have committed culture at times. You’re going to have areas where you’re going to have a compliant culture. You have departments that maybe lean a little bit more on certain parts of the culture. We just wanted to make sure that when you begin thinking about this… This is a very fluid and a dynamic model in regards to culture that I believe it could be a language that you begin speaking internally with your organization that would create some aha conversations. Not only that, but then also increase the safety, increase the culture. Again, what does it feel like to work here, think, act and interact? Very simple, but I think that’s just a powerful way to explain it.

Perry Holley:    You can almost take any challenge that you’re facing and put it up against that model and say, the challenge is not what you think it is. It’s a culture problem and it really is driven by think, act and interact. That’s a little assessment you can do. I don’t want you to wrap up, but just thinking about how can I tell where I am is by maybe paying attention to how people are thinking. How are they acting? How are they interacting with each other?

If they’re resting on success and thinking about the last great success we had and they’re acting like that was the best we can do and they’re interacting, we don’t need to change, that may be a complacent culture that you’re in. If they’re think, acting and interacting on process rules, procedures, and just sticking close to the game plan, that’s probably compliancy. If they’re really focused on production and supporting each other and producing the results, think, and act and interact around that, then it’s probably committed. If you really see purpose, and a bigger picture, and looking out for each other and that care that’s in there, then it’s probably courageous. I love this. It’s really got me thinking a lot about when I see-

Chris Goede:     It’s good stuff.

Perry Holley:    … in our culture and what we do, and where are we?

Chris Goede:     Every organization out there, every team has a culture. One way or another, it is happening. For me, this wraps it up. I want a culture that encourages courageous action. Does that mean in a meeting, speaking up and making sure your voice is heard? Does that mean bringing an idea to the table that may be absolutely crazy, but will benefit the end user, the consumer? Does that mean that we’re on the shop floor and you need to step up and say, “No, not today.”? Does that mean you see somebody that maybe is getting ready to get on a piece of heavy equipment and it’s probably not the best day for them to be on that piece of equipment and you say, “Hey, maybe not today.”?

Creating that culture takes courageous action. I think when you begin thinking about and breaking down like Greg has done for us with this and has served some of our clients so, so well over the last 18 months, I’m super excited to be able to now be able to bring this to our current partners and people that are out there in the business world. Man, as I wrap up, let us help, but let Greg help, let Perry, let our team help. Let us bring this to you guys virtually or in person. We would love to begin talking about what that looks like inside your organization. You can do that by, again, visiting and we’ll follow back up with you there.

Perry Holley:    That’s where the Learner Guide is and that’s where you can leave a question or a comment. We always love hearing from you and we’re very grateful that you would spend this time with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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