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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #164: Balancing the 4 Dimensions of Culture

December 2, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #164: Balancing the 4 Dimensions of Culture

What’s more important: having a Courageous Culture or balancing the three positive dimensions of culture? Today, Perry and Chris continue their talk with Greg Cagle about having balanced and healthy dimensions of culture.

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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:     And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining.

Hey, if you have a question for Perry or I, or a comment about a previous episode, maybe you’d even like to learn a little bit about some of the virtual delivery that we are doing on all of our content and our coaching, I want to encourage you to go to You can find out more information there. Leave us the question or comment, and Perry and I will address that in a future episode. Matter of fact, Perry’s even written a couple of our content pieces around some of the comments and questions that our listeners have had for us, and so we’re grateful for you listening.

Well, today’s topic is Balancing the Four Dimensions of Culture. Now, if you’re asking yourself, Chris, what kind of title is that? What are you even talking about? You missed last week’s episode. And so I’m going to encourage you to go back and listen to that.

We have a guest of ours. He’s not really a guest, he’s one of our own. He’s one of our executive coaches and facilitators. Does a phenomenal job for us and organizations around the world, Greg Cagle. And this really kind of stemmed out of a passion that he has had. And it’s also stemmed out of a question that we ask, which is, what problem can we help our organizations and our leaders solve? And Greg has walked the road with many leaders, and has come up with some incredible content to help serve organizations. And this is just one of them.

And so today, we’re going to talk about how do you balance the four dimensions of the culture? And I’m going to introduce again, just briefly, the four dimensions.

But the first thing I want to do is, I ended the last episode with a comment about, hey, your culture is going to happen one way or another. It’s either going to happen accidentally, or we’re going to be intentional. And you’ve heard Perry and I talk about this word, intentionality, when it comes to designing a leadership culture. And by the way, that’s what the three of us and our entire team, that’s what we’re passionate about, is the leadership culture inside your organization.

And one of the things I love, Greg shared with me in between recording sessions today. He said, “Listen, one of the keys is us being able to help organizations do the four things when it comes to culture. How do we help them design it? How do we help them deploy it? Then, how do we help them understand who and how to promote it inside an organization? And then, how do we help them understand, ultimately, who’s going to protect that culture.” It was a great conversation. And I’m telling you right now, that is what we are here to do. We are here to serve you with that.

So anyways, I’m going to stop talking, because we got Greg with us. And Greg does plenty of talking. If you listen to our last episode, we had a lot of fun with that. But Greg, thanks so much for being with us again today. Hey, real quick. As, as you say hello, and we welcome you back, talk from high level about the four dimensions. Give us what they are, and a little bit about each.

Greg Cagle:       Yeah. I’ll just revisit that conversation. So what we teach leaders to understand about their culture is you’re going to have a culture, whether it’s accidental or intentional, Chris, that’s what you spoke to right at the end of the last time we talked. And then within that culture, you’re going to have four components. And those components, three of those are healthy and necessary. And if they’re balanced properly, and they are synergistic in the way that they interact with each other, then it’s going to be a very healthy and very high performing culture.

And one of those dimensions is a negative drag. And we talk about it because I’ve never really met an organization yet, that didn’t have some element of that in there, and that’s the complacency. So the four dimensions, once again, just quickly to review, is the complacent dimension, which is where we rely on the status quo and try to replicate success to the extent that we become complacent. We think, well, this is the way we’ve always done it, and this is the way we always will. And so that’s the complacency.

Compliance is where all the order and structure of an organization exists. This is where our key processes, procedures, and rules, live. And it gives our organization a way to structurally attack the business initiatives that we want to advance. We want to make sure that we keep it balanced, but it’s very important, and it’s very fundamental to a successful culture.

And then, there’s the committed culture. We call that committed because the organization and the people within it have to be very, very committed to performance and achievement and the reaching of its goals. And all that entails with that lives within the committed dimension.

And then the last dimension, which can be very, very exciting, but can also be frustrating at times, is what we call the courageous dimension. We call it courageous because this is where an organization has to be courageous enough to step outside of the norms of doing business, outside of what it knows, and the experiences that it has that has brought them success, and search out what’s next? What are we looking for to be the next industry leaders? To widen the gap between us and our competitors. And so it takes a lot of courage to do that. So we call that the courageous dimension. So those are the four, it’s kind of revisited.

Chris Goede:     Good. Good.

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Perry Holley:    So when I, when Chris and I were in a room, you did a kind of a train the trainer, kind of walking us through the first time, Greg. And we were all excited to see, because we, like Chris said, all of our customers, clients, prospect, everybody’s talking about culture and how do we do it better? And so we’re helping design versus default on a culture. But one thing that I took away incorrectly, and I’m afraid, because just to our listeners, I put a picture of Greg’s model in the learner guide. You can see it. But when I first saw it, I kind of viewed it like a ladder that I would climb. And so you definitely want to get out of complacent. You want to get up to compliant. Then you want to leave that behind, and go to the next, and go to the next, so that you end up that you’re 100% a courageous culture.

And what I’ve learned since then, that I mistook that, I don’t want anybody else to mistake it when they see the picture. How do these interrelate there? It’s not a climb. And I think you’ve just said it a couple times, that it’s a balance and a health thing, but can you give us more on that? So I don’t get people climbing a ladder.

Greg Cagle:       Yeah. Well I think the first thing Perry, once again, you’re pretty astute, because you always look for things that you think might be confusing to others. And look, when I introduce this to leaders, the first thing I get within the first five minutes of a conversation. Oh yeah. I want to be a culture. I want to be courageous. Right?

Chris Goede:     Courageous. Yeah.

Greg Cagle:       You want that courageous culture? That’s us. Yeah. Yeah. Help us get to the top of that mountain.

Chris Goede:     I’m going to be a level five leader.

Greg Cagle:       That’s right.

Chris Goede:     I’m going to be a level five leader, right?

Greg Cagle:       Yeah. Chris, you know that.

Chris Goede:     Yes.

Greg Cagle:       We teach the five levels, which is probably a key component of a healthy culture. Right?

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Greg Cagle:       And everybody’s, “Oh, I want to be a level five leader.” Okay, well let’s retract this thing, man. You want to be a good level two, three, and four leader also. Right? All right. So with this thing, what we’ve started to help leaders understand is, that there’s two things associated with these three positive dimensions of culture, the compliant, committed, and courageous.

The things that leaders need to pay attention to, and to manage, right, is two things. The health of each one of those dimensions, and the balance among the three. I think we briefly touched last time. What happens if an organization gets out of balance and has too much compliance? Well, when that happens, the people in the organization become complacent, because there’s a rule and a process for everything. They feel like there’s no room for creativity, or risk, or innovation. And so we go into complacency.

Same thing with committed. If all we ever do is commit to a goal, and then we hit that goal, and then the leader comes back and says, “Okay, great. You did that yesterday, but here’s the new one.” And, “What have you done for me today?” And, “Let’s climb the next mountain.” Well, eventually what happens is now, the employees go to complacency, but not because of compliance, but because of burn out. And they walk in the door and they go, “You know what? It really doesn’t matter. Whatever you do for this organization, it’s never going to be enough. And they’re always going to have the next mountain to climb. And nobody really celebrates what we did yesterday.”

And so, when that becomes overblown, same thing happens. And so, balance of these is absolutely imperative. So leaders need to look. What does it take to have a healthy, compliant, committed and courageous dimension, each one. And then what does it look like? How do those need to be balanced? And in every organization it’s different. If I work in a law firm, my compliant dimension may wind up being a little bit bigger and more necessary than it would be if I’m a technology development company. If that makes sense.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. It makes total sense. Hey, so we throw around these dimensions of culture, and I want to back up, and I want to define culture. I think, a lot of leaders, when they say, when they talk about their culture, maybe there’s a… We often talk about this. The three of us do a lot. When it comes to leadership, we say, hey, you got to have a common language of leadership, in essence. Right? That’s why the five levels model is the base and the foundation of everything that we teach, and we facilitate, and we consult on. And I think the same is true with culture.

And Greg, how would you encourage leaders out there, that are like, okay, well, yeah. I understand these four dimensions. But maybe they have a misperception, or a misalignment with their team, on how they define culture. How would you encourage? what does that look like for a leader to actually identify and define their culture inside their organization?

Greg Cagle:       What a great question. Because, what I found, and Perry, I know you have too, because you and I’ve had conversations about this. Perry works with a lot of high level leaders. He’s kind of our A guy. I’m just the guy that comes in-

Perry Holley:    Oh, here we go. Here we go.

Greg Cagle:       Yeah, here we go. Here we go. There’s two things that I have found, two kind of traps that leaders fall into. One is, they do understand what culture is. They get it. Right? The problem is, they have a hard time passing that on to the people that are going to, as we said earlier, promote and protect the culture. So if a leader understands what culture is, but the employees don’t really get it, we got a problem.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, we do.

Greg Cagle:       We’re going to have an accidental culture.

The other thing that I find is, believe it or not, a lot of leaders walk around with this idea that they know what culture is in their head. They really don’t. And if I can tell a quick example, I’ll talk to leaders and I’ll say, “Hey, do you think culture’s important?” “Oh yeah. Maybe the most important thing in business.” Do you really? “How’s your culture?” “Oh, we’ve got a good one here. Tell you that.” And then you say, “Hey, help me out. Define culture. What is culture?”

I had a leader tell me this one time. I said, “Hey.” I asked him those two questions, and I got to the third question and I said, “How do you define culture there in your organization?” And I was sincere, I wanted to know. I’m learning. Right? He goes, “Well, you know culture?” He said, “Culture is well, culture is, but you know, culture is culture.” That was the answer I got. And so I said, “Okay, we got some work to do here.” And they know it’s important. They’re willing to commit to it. We just need to guide them a little bit. And so here’s what we did. We said, culture is simple. And so that you understand it. And so you can pass it along. And your employees that are executing on culture have the same understanding. It’s three simple things. three simple things.

Culture is the way we think, it’s the way we act, and it’s the way we interact. And it even might sound like this. If I’m going to come to work for Perry’s organization tomorrow, and Perry says, “Welcome aboard Greg, we’re glad to have you, but I want to give you some insights on how to succeed in this organization.” And it’ll sound just like this. You say, “Look, if you’re going to work here, and contribute, and be productive, and have a fulfilling career, here’s how you’re going to have to think. Because this is how we think around here.” Right?

So Chris, it might be something as simple as what we teach in the five levels.

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Greg Cagle:       Leadership is influence, not title. So Perry would say to me, “If you’re going to lead here, Greg, it’s about influence. It’s not about authority, and you need to understand that. That’s the way we think around here.” Isn’t that interesting?

Chris Goede:     Yeah.Greg Cagle:       And then, Perry may say, “If you’re going to be successful, here’s how we expect you to act. Here are the behaviors that we need to see demonstrated in our people here.” That’s usually values based.

Chris Goede:     Well, listen. And so, take this just a bit further, Greg. I want to kind of put you on the spot here for a minute. And what I love about the content that we’ve created for organizations for leaders is, we want it to be very applicable. Right? We don’t want it just to be about theoretical and philosophy. We want to give you tangible stuff to do on a daily basis as part of what you’re already doing.

So give us a little bit of example. Pick one of the dimensions. Okay? And then, talk about what it would be like. Because we do this in the actual participant’s guide. Right? What does it look like to think, act, and interact, in this dimension of the culture? And I think that’s so powerful. That was a huge takeaway for Perry and I, when we went through the training with you, we were like, man, that’s the meat right there. So take just a minute, and talk a little bit about one of the dimensions, and what it might look like, to go a little bit further than the example that you just used with Perry just a minute ago.

Greg Cagle:       Yeah. One thing that might be good to understand is, that culture is, can deliver on many initiatives within an organization. Right? If I have a sales initiative and goal I want to achieve, culture can deliver on that.

Chris Goede:     Yes.

Greg Cagle:       If I have, like one of our clients in the past, I have a safety goal that I want to hit-

Chris Goede:     Yes.

Greg Cagle:       … and culture can deliver on that. And so, if you want a great example, here’s an example. So with the organization that approached the Maxwell Company and said, “Listen, we have the best safety record in the industry, but we can’t celebrate it. We can’t celebrate it because too many times, even though our record of recordable incidences is great, we have, God help us, a fatality or significant injuries where people’s lives are altered. And we just can’t have that anymore.” And so we sat down, we looked at it, and we said, “Perry, you want to tell them what we said to this client? Because I know, you know it really well.” We told them they didn’t have a safety problem. What’d we tell them?

Chris Goede:     They have a culture problem.

Greg Cagle:       That’s it.

Chris Goede:     That’s it.

Greg Cagle:       We said, “You don’t have a safety problem. You have a culture problem.” And here’s the key. So let’s talk about compliance. When we looked at it, we said, “Oh, your compliant dimension is great. You have all the safety protocols, safety rules in place. Everybody knows what they are. You educate people on them. You talk about them constantly.” But the problem is, we created complacency, because everybody’s lulled into this false sense of security that we have a process and procedure for everything. So even though any past sins of safety are covered in a rule, any potential safety hazards aren’t looked at, because no one’s thinking outside of compliance.

Chris Goede:     Right.

Greg Cagle:       And so here’s what we said. “If you want to reach your safety goals, you got to think that the rules, processes, and compliance protocols, are the foundation, but not the total answer. You’re going to have to think more emotionally, then procedurally, to get people emotionally committed, to wanting to do whatever it takes to keep people safe.” So there was the thinking.

And we said, “All right. Well, what actions are going to be required there?” Well, leaders are going to have to act like partners in safety with employees, rather than enforcers. And we said, “They’re going to have to act like they’re interested about sending people home safely, not about reducing their recordables.” And so we changed the whole thinking and action set. And the next thing we know, knock on wood, we’re 22 months from that start of that program, and we’ve not had a fatality, nor have we had a life altering injury, and our recordables are steadily declining. And so it’s culture, that’s driving that.

Chris Goede:     And the interaction part of what they’re seeing between the team members is completely different, than what it was 22 months ago.

Greg Cagle:       You nailed it Chris. Because 22 months ago, the leaders were going to their employees and saying, “Do this. Do this. Don’t forget your PPE. And don’t you dare step outside of this process.” Now leaders are going and interacting with employees saying, “What do you see that’s unsafe? What do you know that I don’t know? Give me one reason why we should shut down this line. What doesn’t feel right to you?” So the interaction piece has completely changed. Why? Because we changed the thinking, and we changed the acting. And so therefore, the interaction follows those other two.

Perry Holley:    Wow. That was so good.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Let me, yeah. Perry, let me jump in here and kind of wrap up. But before I do that, one of the things too, I want to mention is, we even went so far as to say, “Hey, what is the culture shaping communication?” And Greg helped us develop a communication training for teams, culture shaping communication. Think about that. Think about the disarray of cultures that happens because of the improper way we’re communicating with our team members, with our leaders, with those that work with us. And so we did the same thing there. We said, “Hey, what does it look like to communicate, in each one of these dimensions, to enhance the culture?”

So what I love about it, and what you heard just quickly, was 22 months ago, we met a need for an organization around safety culture. The next thing was, it was a communication thing. And out of that, Greg’s going, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute, we haven’t got to the foundation, let’s back up a little bit. The tail’s wagging the dog. We have these four dimensions of culture, let’s back up and set this foundation. So then we know what it’s like to think, act, and interact, in each one of those.”

So here’s my wrap up for you, leaders. I want you to think about this, whether it’s your team, whether it’s your organization, maybe it’s the community, maybe it’s somewhere you serve. I want you to be honest with yourself and say, where do you think you are in each one of these dimensions of the culture? Are you out of balance, like Greg and Perry mentioned? Is there something that we need to realign? Or maybe, are we too heavy on the compliance side? Which is the negative part of it. And really begin to ask yourself those questions. Because I think if you could sit down and have some time to think through that, and honestly answer that, you’d be surprised. Maybe you could even ask some of your team members and see what type of answer that you get.

My final comment to you is this. The three of us, on behalf of John Maxwell, Mark Cole, and our organization, we are here to add value to you, to add value to leaders, so that you can multiply value in others. And the way that you can multiply value in others, is to make sure that you are extremely intentional about that culture. To make sure, as Greg talked about, and I introduced at the top of this, and I love this. How are we designing it? How are we deploying it? How are we promoting it? And how are we protecting our leadership culture inside an organization? And if you can do that, I promise, you’ll be able to multiply value to other people.

And so, we have one more session with Greg I’m super excited about. But again, I just want to remind you as we close, Perry will give you the URL. But if you’re interested in having a conversation with the three of us, with one of our team members, with talking about bringing this culture shaping communication, or the four dimensions of culture inside your organization, we are here to serve you, and grateful that you listened to us today.

Perry Holley:    Man, thank you, Chris. And thank you, Greg, with some great stuff. I do invite you back next week. We will talk about how to apply these four dimensions of culture. Greg gave us a little bit on safety. Chris mentioned communication. There’s lots of ways that culture affects your business. And so that’d be a great conversation to have.

As Chris mentioned, if you’d like to leave us a comment or a question, you can do that at We always love hearing from you. And we’re very grateful that you would spend this time with us every week.

That’s all today, from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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