Mark Cole: Welcome to the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. My name is Mark Cole and I am excited today to not only have an incredible lesson by John Maxwell, but to be joined by my co-leader, my friend, my partner, Traci Morrow, and she and I, after we listened to John together, are going to come back and discuss this lesson, both in our personal application, as well as how we apply around the John Maxwell's organization. So get ready because today John is going to be teaching on culture. In fact, John will be teaching you. He makes a statement in today's lesson, he says, "The most powerful factor in an organization's success is its culture," and he'll share with you three ways that culture is driven in and through an organization. I'm very excited for you to take this in. Now, if you're joining us visually that's because you found us at maxwellpodcast.com/YouTube. Welcome. We're glad you're here. We're glad we are visually connecting.
Some of you have already began sharing your impact story from the podcast and from the Maxwell brand by going to maxwellpodcast.com/MyImpactStory. But for those of you listening today, and you're just tuned in, you're honed in for a lesson on culture, I want you to go to maxwellpodcast.com/culture, click on the bonus resource button, and there you will get some fill in the blank worksheet that will help you follow along as John teaches. So now that you have your pen, your paper, your fill in the blank worksheet, let's hear from John Maxwell.
John Maxwell: Today I want to talk to you on the subject, culture, the most powerful factor in an organization. More important than anything else is the culture in an organization. And culture is a way of life cultivated over time through three things. Culture is cultivated by, number one, behavior. Number two, symbols, and number three, systems. And these three things, behavior, symbols, systems, are outward displays of what is valued, and that is what culture is. Culture is created as a result of the messages employees receive about how to behave around here. As human beings, we are hardwired to adjust and fit into the communities of which we are members. This is essential if we are to become accepted socially and in the case of an employer, if we are to keep our job. Employees pick up these messages about expected behavior and adjust their own accordingly, and those who cannot or will not adjust, tend to leave on their own free will or be ejected.
These messages tell us what is valued in this organization, and they're received from different sources, again, behavior, symbols and systems. For example, behavior, the behavior that is played out through others, especially those that are in positions of authority. The behavior is what is done rather than what is said. It can be in small groups, one-on-one, or it could be in large groups, but it is the behavior that is being fleshed out. When I pastored in San Diego, what we had was a church that was growing very fast and we were landlocked on a few acres and building and we had to go through a major relocation, that's another story. But here we are in this landlocked area, and we're having to be creative and we had literally four services on Sunday morning trying to handle crowds.
And so what I needed is I needed a lot of people to park off property because we didn't have enough parking space. And so literally there was a place across the street and down the road and about a block away that you could park cars. And so I had to create a culture, a behavior system that people could understand and buy in and so when I told the leaders that they couldn't park on the property, when... In fact when people joined the church, I said, "The good news is you become a member, the bad news is you can't park on the property."
Now see most congregations, the members it's the country club for them, they get to park in the closest places. No, we parked in the farthest places. What I did is I would get there first in the morning, because I'm getting ready for the day, four services, you got to get mentally, spiritually ready. So I'd go maybe at six o'clock in the morning and I would park a block away and I would walk to the church. Now, could I have parked right by the front door? Of course, I could have parked by the front door, but I realized I couldn't get my leaders to park away if I didn't park away. Are you seeing this? This is behavior. This is fleshing out by example what you want your other people to do. And you set your culture, not by what you say, you set your culture by what you do.
Remember this, the greatest motivational principle in the world is people do what people see. So behavior is part of it. Now symbols are also. Symbols such as how time is spent, how money is allocated, office space, who gets the best offices, titles, who gets promoted, favored, how communication works. What is symbolic about your business that creates the culture of it? For example, and again, I could take any of these and talk about them and illustrate it. Office space, office space I've always felt is overrated. Let me tell you a cute story. When I started my company in San Diego, enjoy out of... I wanted to develop a company to resource leaders, of course we had very little money. We were just small. Half of us were volunteers in the beginning. And so we were... Like a strip mall and we had a section there to have our offices and we were growing extremely fast.
So, we had a handful of employees and pretty soon we got 50, 75, a hundred, this thing just... it's just exploding. Well, we can't keep up. We don't have space. And I told them, I said, "Well, give up my office. Let somebody else have my office." And so I gave my office away kind of unnerved a lot of people because they thought, "Well, John, you need an office. You're the owner of the company." No, I don't need an office. I can hang, I'll go from room to room. I can go to people's offices and talk to them. And so it was no problem. The number one leadership magazine in the country, it's called Leadership Magazine. And they wanted to come out and they wanted to interview me and wanted to do a feature article on my leadership stuff.
So I said, "Fine, come on out to San Diego where I am." And so immediately my crew began to worry, because again, they were going to come out and interview me. They're bringing photographers. They were doing all this stuff. They were bringing in the whole van with all the... because it was the front cover deal and the whole deal. And they said, "But John, you don't have an office." I said, "I don't need an office. It's okay. I can do an interview without an office." And about two weeks before they came, in the back hallway was a storage closet.
And one day I just got the idea. I thought, "You know what? Think I'll just clear the storage closet out." So I hadn't cleared the storage closet out and I put a card table in it, because there wasn't any room, it's only about eight feet by 10 feet. You got the picture? It was a glorified telephone booth. So I got a card table and I got a folding chair on one side and put a folding chair on the other side. And I got a picture of my family and stuck it on the wall.
And this is so funny. So, they came out for the interview. And so I go out into the little front area where they were and they said, "Good to have you. Come on back to my office." And so I'm leading through all these other places and some nice offices, we just keep going back and we get to the end of the hallway, we go into the closet and I said, "I'm sorry," because they had seven people, they had two cameramen, they had... And I said, "You know what? We'll have to do this in shifts. You know what I'm saying? So whoever's going to interview, you can come in and I'll sit in this chair and you sit on that chair and the rest of you can take turns and just rotate. You know what I mean? Just have at it, it's all yours." So the guy is just down to do the interview and another guy standing behind him and they're just looking around, they're... And I'm just inside horribly, dysfunctionally happy.
You're getting to know me well, aren't you huh? I'm just saying, I am messing with you like you haven't been messed with for a long time. And I know they're getting ready for this interview and they get the recorders, they're doing video, it's a feature article front cover stuff. And so they started asking questions and I'm just answering the question because I know it's only a matter of time. And can I tell you something? I ain't going until they're asking and we're about in the third or fourth question, final guy said... he just puts his things and said, "Is this really your office?"
And I said, "Oh yeah, I'm so excited." I said, "I just got it." I said, "I'm just thrilled. I just got it because I didn't have one a couple weeks ago. And the team felt I should have one since I own the company, and I didn't know if I really needed it, so we cleaned out the closet and I'm sorry, we got the folding tear but the folding table does good. It works fine." And the guy says, "I've done a lot of interviews with leaders and I've never seen an office like this." I said, "Well, I know." And I said, "Again, you want to take some picture or something? You can... My family's right there on that concrete block wall right there if you want to focus in there."
And then I proceeded to tell him and things of importance, offices don't matter. They really don't. Now again, I'm not opposed to a good office. I'm just telling you, it's a cultural thing. And what I was telling my people is this, if you're in a cubicle, it's okay to be in a cubicle. It's all right. What we're doing is trying to help people. But I wanted to set a precedence as far as a culture. It's a symbol. People aren't impressed you with you because you've got a great office. They're aren't impressed to you because you've gone a certain degree. They're not impressed with you because you got a certain... They're impressed with you when you add value to them, and when you care about them and when they can trust you. Symbols, behavior, systems. The systems are part of the culture. What gets measured, what gets reported on, how we pay people, budgeting, structure, all of this stuff, all of this stuff.
The organization itself has an invisible quality, a certain style, a character, a way of doing things that may be more powerful than the dictates of any one person or formerly documented system. To understand the essence or soul of the organization, it requires that we travel below the charts, rule books, machines, and buildings into the underground world of the corporate cultures. Organizational culture includes tangibles and intangibles. The things we see are the way people dress and behave and look, and the corporate offices, the messages of posters on the walls. Here we go. Here we go. Important statement. The intangibles may be harder to grasp, but they give a better read on the organization's true personality, the organization values, stated and unstated beliefs, assumptions. What and how success is celebrated, how problems are addressed, the manifestations of trust and respect at all levels of the organization. These are the intangible elements of culture. Every group in society, family, town, state, nation, company, church, civic group, team, or any other gathering of people has a culture and sometimes clearly identified, but often camouflaged.
Mark Cole: Hey, welcome back. And I am today... Traci, I am so glad to be in studio via Zoom with you today, and really to start talking about this idea of culture. And I love what John teaches here, as it relates to how to construct and build great culture, but isn't it true? What Ralph Waldo Emerson said. He said, "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." And I think that's what John is saying here. And I'm excited to discuss this with you today.
Traci Morrow: Exactly. That's exactly what he's saying. I'm excited to be here too. I feel like this is one of my favorite lessons that John has given, only because no matter what your position and where you are in life, you can contribute to the culture. We're responsible for ourselves and what we bring to the culture. And I always... He broke it down into three pieces, but before we dive in to the business aspect of it, I like to look at what we can do in our family culture, because this is where I first applied John's stuff is raising our six kids and creating a family culture within our home. And so we used to always say, action speak louder than words, same thing. But then when your words and your actions, your behaviors are in alignment, it is all the more powerful.
And so for many of you, you might be brand new to the leadership world, and the first place to practice is at home with creating a culture in our family. And we used to... Mark I know you and I have talked about this before but Casey and I, my husband Casey and I, always wanted to have the culture within our home to be stronger than the culture outside of our home. And in order to do that, this is great breakdown of... People might be saying, "That sounds great, except for how do I do that?" John breaks it down for us, which I think is... Did you use these Mark for your family? Was this something that you and Stephanie would talk about and intentionally create culture in your home?
Mark Cole: We have, and we do. It's funny because I'm always looking for tools for resources to keep it fresh. Our family is very on the go. Very interactive. I got that from my parents. Stephanie got that from her home culture, always being on the go, always moving. And so that is absolutely transcended right into what Stephanie and I, the type of culture we have here. So one of the things that means is we're always looking to up level. We have some very hard and fast foundational systems within the culture of our family, but we're always looking for new things. And so, even as you were talking, I'm sitting here, joting down and thinking, "Okay, man, I could do this." We need to go see what are the behaviors that are acceptable? What are the symbols? What are the systems that we have?
And so, even as you're talking about it, I'm going, yes, we have some real foundational principles to the culture of our family, just like we do at the office, but have we really sat down and said, "Here's the behaviors. Here's the symbols. Here's the systems." And in some ways we have, but I think we can up level it.
Traci Morrow: Yeah. I think we all could. And there's times where I'm stronger and times when we're not as strong, usually it's when we're busier in busier seasons. But there's times that we can continually point back to... just like you can in a business setting. Point back to, this is our family culture. This is not out of line with it and reiterating that as you're with them in the car ride, or while you're waiting in line or whatever and being able to point back to that. But the key is making sure that our behaviors are in line with what we're asking our kids to do, and that's where the rubber really hits the road. But let me just-
Mark Cole: Let me say this, because I know you're getting ready to move. Let me say this, over the last, I guess three months now Traci, well time flying, John and I got to be in your home with your family. And to watch these kids that have been... One is John and I got to go down and see what where you're setting right now with all those John Maxwell books behind. Many of you don't know this, Traci and one other person that I know of has the most extensive comprehensive collection of John Maxwell books than anybody else. And John has signed each and every one of those books behind Traci. And this is all for you podcast listeners, you're going to want to go to YouTube [crosstalk 00:17:13]
Traci Morrow: Check it out on YouTube, see my display.
Mark Cole: But let me say this. So the books are nice. It's a wonderful home. It's a great meal by the way. But all of that was not the stark impact moment for me. The stark impact moment is what you're describing right now. Your kids sit around with John Maxwell at the table and ask questions, and we're very comfortable with a leadership discussion from a guy that is an icon to many. He felt like just a family guest to your team, to your family rather. And I think that's because you created this culture in your home. So I love that you brought that up. I love that we started that way because I have been... And John has been a testament in your and Casey's home and we got to see culture lived out that you're describing.
Traci Morrow: Well, thank you. That's an honor. And it's just more of you guys leaving in a clear trail for all of us to follow. And it's interesting because when my adult daughter, Holly met John for the first time, she's like, "Oh my gosh, mom. It's like now I see where you get all of these things that you say and do. I now see the story."
Mark Cole: Traci and you correct her and say, "No, no, no, that's where John got [crosstalk 00:18:18] thank you very much."
Traci Morrow: But I have also been in positions where, when I was not the leader of the company but a leader in a company with a leadership over me, I have had situations where the culture was not clear and the culture changed. And it was with the wind almost what was rewarded. John said, "Culture is an outward display of what is valued. And also what is rewarded." He'll say, "What gets rewarded gets done." And so I've been in that and I can't... I'm certain that the people in our podcast audience have had the same situation, but what do you... Do you think if you are not the leader, can you affect the culture of a team, if you're not the one setting what gets rewarded, if you're not the person who is in charge of setting that, what if you're in a culture that's uncertain, unclear, maybe even something that you think isn't great. What do you say to people who are maybe be in a situation where their company culture is not ideal?
Mark Cole: Yeah. And I love this question and the answer is yes, I am after 10 opportunities to do something different. John did finally find something that maybe I can do with effectiveness, we'll see. But I do get to set and guard and to be honest with you, more than the CEO, I'm the chief culture officer because culture is so important as John said, it is a factor of success in any organization, the biggest factor. So to your question, what does a leader do when they are working in a culture that does not match? As Emerson says, the actions do not match what's being said. I've been there. I've been there in a Maxwell organization, to where leadership was not truly in sync with what we said, we were not acting, we were not rewarding the same behavior. So what does one do? Back to your question.
Well, let me tell you what I did. One is I pointed it out, because I think that we as leaders so many times since we're not the leader, we excuse inconsistencies and incongruency in the organization. We go, "Well, I'm not the leader, so that's just a fact of life." No, it's not. You're a part of that organization, step up. Now, step up with honor, step up with an awareness that it may mark you as unpopular and unpromotable. But by the way, do you want to be promoted in an organization that does not match your values? So just think about that one for a minute, but let's go back. What do you do? I do not believe you sit and let it be unaddressed. I think we find ways to address it with honor, with dignity, but we express it.
So what I would do in the particular situation that I'm thinking about is I would express, "Hey, you're wanting behaviors and you're wanting a leadership dynamic that I don't personally agree with. And I don't think Maxwell's content agrees with. So if that's what you want, don't promote me into this leadership position, because I'm not going to run our sales team that way. And if that is what you want, then you're going to need to find somebody else."
Now that was a very difficult statement for me to make, because I was in a place where I would like to have a little bit promotion and a whole lot more money and this was both of those, but it was not congruent with who I was. So I pointed it out, when I was then given permission that, "Hey, no, you're the right leader. You've produced really well. I want you to lead and teach other people how to produce." I went, "Well, then I'm going to do it my way." And what that means dear leader is there is a chance I'm going to create a subculture on you.
Now let me say something to all you leaders out there that are running a subculture. I don't believe in subcultures. I don't want anybody that's working alongside me on our team to have a subculture, but sometimes subcultures are required in toxic organizations, but I don't believe any good leader builds a subculture without being transparent about it. You're that, I believe you do have to have subcultures sometimes, I've ran subcultures. But to run a subculture and pretend that you are loyal to the bad culture while you are creating subculture makes you just as incongruent as the situation. So what I did was I went, "Hey, okay, I will step in and lead it my way. Thank you for seeing that I can't run it your way because I couldn't, I will run it my way but that's going to create a subculture on you. Are we okay if I have a subculture under the culture that is in some ways very toxic?"
And the answer of course at that point, because the need for my sales competence was needed was, yes, but every single month I was running up against the subculture because it's not optimal. That's a long answer Traci, to your question. My point is, yes, there are times we lead in a culture that is not congruent, but we should never lead from a place of silence. And we should never lead from a place of being comfortable creating a subculture against the toxic culture. It needs to be very transparent.
Traci Morrow: You said... I know this is really long, but I feel like there was so much gold in that, because for the people who are in that space right now that was life giving to them, I know that. And so lot of good stuff there friends, even something to just rewind and take a note and listen again, if you're listening while you're commuting or on the way to a meeting that's a difference maker. So, we've been going for a while on this one. Now I want to switch gears a little bit, Mark. John, first of all the story about him in his office in that tiny little cracker box with his family picture on the little cement ledge is hysterical, that story I love it. But it does bring to mind, because he'll say the lowest level of the five levels of leadership is title and position.
But there is something to be said for you as the leader who sees somebody coming up in the ranks and improving and doing an incredible job. And there are certain symbols that symbolize that they are rising in the ranks as far as having more influence in the organization. And so how do you as a leader... John gave himself the crummy office, he didn't give somebody else the crummy office because John does holds those things very loosely because he is more captured on what the goal is and the purpose of where he's going that an office doesn't make sense.
But you as the leader, how do you navigate that line between your employees who are... or the leaders in your employee, who are leading and having influence over others, but also not focusing and making a priority of the desk, of the office? How do you do that? Because John did it for himself. He monitored himself and took away that power. But what do you do as a leader? Or is that something that you do? Do you give somebody the next biggest office as they have a new position? Or how does that go in the way that you run the organization?
Mark Cole: Well, I think that we all should balance ourself with humility, with hunger, with the sense that there is a level of influence and perception that we need to demonstrate our leadership effectiveness. And so, man, I know billionaires here in Atlanta. I'm thinking of two right now that drive an old Chevy pickup truck [crosstalk 00:26:31] going to work, billionaires. And so I think each person really needs to work out. I'm not going to say that every leader should have the milk bucket with a folding table and their family there. I certainly have one of the corner offices with two walls of glass. And so, but at the same time, I think that we all need to hold ourself in check with how we interact and deal with our team. In fact, as you were asking that Traci, I was going to do this at the end of the show today, but we had a listener question recently from Jason.
Jason's one of our podcast listeners. And he asked this question and I'm going to promise you, I'll tie this into the question you just asked of me. Here was Jason's question, do you think it is a good leadership idea to say my people or my staff when discussing your job and those you manage? Personally, it's always bothered me when managers saying my anything, because the people are not yours, they're your team or you are a team and therefore Jason says, I always say we and our, when discussing those I work with and manage, and then Jason says and by the way, thank you, Jason. He says, thanks and I love your podcast. And I went, "Jason, you had me all the way up until you called this my podcast. It's not my podcast, it's our podcast." And I just cracked up Jason, but here's the point, Jason's really on to something right here.
And Jason, I love you, can't wait to meet you in person, hug your neck and thanks for listening to the podcast. Pass it along, Jason. But here's what Jason's point really is, it's not my mine, our. John not only did that wonderful lesson about his office with his family on the concrete ledge and all that. He was met in Atlanta at a really nice restaurant by somebody that says, "Hey, John, I just started working for you. I'm on your team now." And John introduced himself and the person introduced himself. He said, "Hey, by the way, you don't work on my team and you do not work for me. We work together." And so Jason, I think you're onto something with this question because I do think it's ours. I think it's our workspace. And while it may make sense for some offices and some meetings and some different things that give me that office premium that is different than what John's was, because John's not in the office.
And I'm not in the office much right now either, but when I'm in the office there's this needing and this need for our workspace and what's happening in that space. And I think the real thing Traci, that we all need to think through in the culture, is it a dictatorial all for the benefit of the senior leader, or is there camaraderie that we're all in this together and we all benefit together? And I think balancing that and not letting one person, the leader be the sole determiner of that is really important. I didn't ask for my office. They gave it to me when we moved recently, I'm getting ready to look at them and go, "Hey, this may not be the best use of this real estate based on how much I'm traveling right now." So I think we need to work through that with people that are around us. But certainly if there is this culture that I am the senior leader, I am the one that deserves this, then I think that's the idea or the perspective we need to keep ourselves in check about.
Traci Morrow: So the spirit isn't that the office itself is wrong. John was talking about his office was moving and building, growing so fast that they were running out of space. It wasn't that he refused to ever have an office, because I think that's worth noting because we just don't want to hold it too closely, our identity is caught up in whether or not we have two walls of glass or whether we are in a small little cleaning room. The point is that we're connected to what we're doing, and I love that you said keeping humility and hunger in check, which has nothing to do with where we sit down to do our work or meet people.
Mark Cole: And let me tell you Traci, this goes back to Jason's great question. I certainly try not to use... In fact, those of you that hear the podcast often, I try to always lead with women and men, "Okay, women and men let me tell you this right here." But most of our culture says men and women. We've always heard men and women, men and women. But I always... if you'll listen back to podcasts, I always try to lead women and men. There's two reasons that I do that. One, my dad always taught me ladies first and I try to go back to my culture in treating others with dignity and respect, which by the way has very little to do with gender and has a whole lot to do with how you see the other human being with dignity and respect. And I decided that I'm not going to say men and women, boys and girls, I'm going to say girls and boys, and I'm going to say women and men.
Now, the second reason I do that is because we're in a society that is realizing that we have undervalued women's place in leading and changing the world. And I'm on a quest to demonstrate that some of the greatest world changers in the universe is women. Some of the greatest, yes, I use a comparative statement right there, is women and we have not done good as a society of recognizing the power, and the influence and the significance of women in leadership. And so several years ago I made a decision for... with a very small nomenclature change, I'm going to make a very big statement, small nomenclature change. Many of you have not even noticed that I invert that all the time, but I had did it a long time ago because I'm on a quest of two things. One, give honor to another human being. And two, show the significance of women in leadership.
Now back to your question Jason, and back to your question, Traci, on this podcast. When it's my and our, is it really a leader trying to power up by saying my team? Most of the time, no, it's just somebody that's highly responsible that says, "This is my team." Sometimes it's somebody very protective, "This is my team." Some of the time, people that want identity, "This is my team," but there are times that people go, "This is my team," like they lured over them. I do think nomenclature matters. I do think for me and you Traci, and you Jason, if we are convicted by something, we need to change it. I change it and say women and men, but I don't look down on people that still say men and women because they don't share my nomenclature change. And so the world needs a little bit more tolerance and a little bit more singularity and not a whole lot more conformity.
Conformity's trying to make you say it like me because I want you to have the same, that's the same problem is we're trying to address. So I went on a little bit of a tirade right there, but I think it matters in culture.
Traci Morrow: I do too.
Mark Cole: So just because Traci, you say men and women does not mean you don't respect women. And just because I say women and men don't mean I respect women more, but many times our current culture is telling us that if you don't say it just like me, you're a problem which then is underscoring the problem we're trying to alleviate. And that is what I'm saying about culture.
Traci Morrow: And you know what? It triggers something in me because we have some episodes previous that connect to this. And so we'll put the link in the notes, but what my Mark just said, you're affecting culture. You're influencing future culture by saying women and men because the people who will hear you will flip that, which will give different honor. And that's a way of connecting with people. So we have two episodes that we'll put in the link in the show notes, but it's... The first one was how I learned to connect with people by honoring them, Mark you do that so well. And then people do what people see, people will hear what you say, see what you do. And then they will do it as well because people do what people see. This has been a great episode, hasn't it, Mark?
Mark Cole: It has. The final thing I'll say as we close out today is I do John talk today in this episode that behavior, symbols and systems are the components of cultivating culture. I believe common beliefs, excuse me, common language, common beliefs and common behaviors are the greatest indicators. So the greatest cultivators, John says behavior, symbols and systems. The greatest indicators are, are we all saying the same thing, is there are common language? Are we all believing the same thing? We are believing that if we live up to this language, we're going to see greater things ahead of us. And then the common behaviors are an outsource from what we say and what we believe. And so common language, common beliefs and common behaviors are the great indicators of culture. We hope we've added value to you today, Traci, as always, thanks for adding value to our podcast listeners, Hey, if you're listening today and this is your first time, we have a lot of episodes that you need to catch up on.
Go to maxwellpodcast.com and you'll see all of it there. If you're an Avid listener and you've never taken advantage of the show notes. At maxwellpodcast.com, you'll see the show notes of this episode as well as other episodes and we include links and things that will help you continue diving deep into today's subject matter. And then finally, if you're wanting to see how awesome Traci is and how much I have a face for radio, we're now on YouTube, maxwellpodcast.com/youtube. Today, Traci and I are both in our home offices. She in Colorado, me in Atlanta, Georgia, but we're with you via visual podcast. And then finally, one final statement, if you've been impacted by John Maxwell and even specifically this podcast, we're capturing stories, we're sharing them with John. We're going to start sharing them live during the podcast. But if you've been impacted, go to maxwellpodcast.com/myimpactstory, forward slash myimpactstory. Record a video, let us see and hear your impact story and let us share it with the world. Thanks for joining us today. Let's go build a powerful culture together. Let's listen, let's learn. Let's lead.