A Leader’s Guide to Culture-Shaping: Showing Up

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A Leader’s Guide to Culture-Shaping: Showing Up

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This is a follow-up article to my Culture-Shaping post for Leaders. You can find Part-1 here, Part-2 here, Part-3 here, and Part-4 here.

I was teaching a CAL class last week in Nashville. During the class, I was sharing how important it is for leaders to “bring it” to work each and every day. I was referring to things like: 

  • Attitude

  • Energy

  • Passion

  • Focus

  • and Engagement

Someone challenged me about the notion. They said that they weren’t always upbeat every day. And that sometimes they simply had a bad day.

They also said that their personality wasn’t upbeat naturally, so it was hard for them to be a Happy Harry or a Positive Polly all of the time. I explained that I wasn’t referring to anything as extreme as that. But I did think that people were paying attention (close attention) to their leaders, their behaviors, and their attitudes.

That not “bringing it” for too many days in a row was the sign of a problem of some sort…

But it’s not just about energy and attitude. As I thought about it, there are really six areas I want to explore where Culture-Shaping focused leaders make a difference in the culture by how they are Showing Up each and every day.

That’s where we’re going next.

I think it starts with bringing your whole self to work. I like an analogy of window shades. When you’re being a “professional” you’re only opening them slightly. You only let folks on the outside see what you want them to see. In other words, you are heavily filtering.

But this filtering isn’t one way. Since you’re modeling it externally, people filter back in kind to you as well. So, you’re only seeing a small part of those around you. 

The first part of bringing your whole self to the workplace is to “open the shades”.

Now I’m not speaking too making them wide open. You might only do that with your family and best friends. But open them as wide as you can. Show yourself. Bring yourself. And see what happens. What might that look like? 

  • Showing vulnerability. Sharing your fears and doubts. Sharing your weaknesses.

  • Sharing your mistakes and failures. Sure, also speak to your successes, but in a balanced fashion.

  • Sharing what you’ve learned in your life. Those hard-earned lessons that you might not talk about.

  • Talking about your family, your personal goals, your aspirations.

  • Sharing where you’ve come from. What are your “roots” or the things that have made you the person you are today?

Another thought in the back of your mind should be—Be Real. Gone are the days when a leader is somehow separate and apart from everyone else. We need to be all-in within the culture we are shaping. Leading by example.

While you’re bringing your whole self to the workplace, make it SAFE for others to do the same.

One important way to make it safe is to check your reactions to events. For example, how do you react when someone fails and it impacts one of your projects? Or when someone makes a mistake?

I like to use the phrase from John Maxwell about—Failing Forward. I use it all of the time in my Culture-Shaping. I really don’t care about a mistake or a failure. They’re behind us. What I find immensely more interesting and important is how we react to it. How do we learn and fail forward? Establishing safety in our continuous learning journey.

Remember it’s not only what you say, but what you DO and how you BEHAVE. And not simply in words, but in your tone and your body language. Remember, it’s awfully hard to “fake it” with people. They typically see through all of that. So, you need to be genuine and authentic in your efforts. If you’re havening trouble rationalizing a fail-forward event, tell folks that. It will help them understand that you’re still a work-in-progress.

Nowadays you’ll hear terms like remaining/being in the moment, mindfulness, and staying/being present as leaders. This is one of the hardest things for me to master personally, as I have a brain that is constantly spinning. Depending on the role I’m in or what I’m doing, I’m thinking of ten or more things at once. Trying to stay ahead of the game somehow. It’s just who I am.

So, it not uncommon if you’re having a conversation with me that I’m about 40% there and 60% elsewhere. In other words, I’m not really there. Not present for the conversation. Not present to notice the subtle nuances of our conversation in tone, body language, and focus.

I used to think that folks didn’t notice it, and, they probably didn’t, as I convinced myself that 40% was “good enough”. But I’ve come to the conclusion that whether they notice or not, it’s a problem. I need to meet every meeting, every conversation, every decision with a clear and focused mind.

There are two keys for me in Showing Up with presence. First is limiting my WIP limit. I have a nasty habit of running with a high-WIP and lowering it helps me focus. Second is centering and clearing my mind before each new “engagement”. Literally taking 5-minutes in a quiet space to clear, center, focus, and then enter with 100% focus and presence.

These might work for you as well.

I’ll take a page out of Radical Candor to begin this. One of the core axes in the model is the care personally axis. Kim also calls it the give a damn axis. This is where you’ve either established (or not) a relationship with someone so that they know where you’re coming from. Where they understand that you CARE for them—their well-being, their future, and their outcomes.

A big part of this is getting to know folks…personally. Who are their significant others, how many children do they have, are any of their parents ill, etc.? Really trying hard to get into the lives of those around you and sharing your life with them. As an introvert, this is challenging for me. But I always endeavor to stretch myself as much as possible in this area.

Another way to create relationships is to ask for candid feedback. But here’s the trick, it’s not the asking that builds the relationship, it’s how you handle (listening, gratefulness, processing, and action-taking) that builds trust and relationship. 

Another key to relationship building is what I consider the lost art of mentoring and coaching. That is, spending time to teach others what you know. To take them under your wing and mentor them. Which again, connects back to the care personally.

A leader who Shows Up somehow radiates an honest and open caring for the people around them. And remember, this isn’t something you can fake. It has to be honest and genuine. But if you bring it, they will respond in kind and connect with you in a relationship.

Josh Anderson and I shared a Meta-cast entitled Don’t Panic! in March 2020. We were reacting to the chaos, frenzy, and panic associated with COVID-19 and the financial crisis. It seemed as if panic was seeping into every minute of every day. Particularly on the news front.

We chatted about the role that calm, focused, and directed leadership can have in a crisis. I brought up historical examples of Roosevelt, Churchill, Bush. And I made the dangerous step of providing a counter-example with Trump. Not being political, but trying to provide contrast to make the point.

I think it’s incredibly important for leaders to Show Up by staying calm within the storm. Any storm. So, take a deep breath, close your eyes and center. Now open them, take a step, and stay calm, stay measured, and be the anchor in the storm for your organization.

Finally, I think a Culture-Shaper who Shows Up needs to be self-aware.

I know, I know. You’re self-aware. I’m self-aware. We’re all self-aware. But NO, we’re not!

There’s a wonderful HBR article entitled Working with People Who Aren’t Self-Aware. In it, they reference a survey where 95% of the respondents felt they were self-aware, but only 15% were actually self-aware based on 360-degree survey feedback.

Independent of the specific numbers, it shows an ~80% gap in self-awareness as a norm. That means 8 of 10 people reading this post are Showing Up with a lack of self-awareness. Wow!

So, it’s important to stay open to feedback, observation, solicit feedback, and relentlessly look for details on how effectively you’re Showing Up. Point being, don’t think you’re effective, verify/confirm that you’re doing it!

When I think of Showing Up as a Culture-Shaper, the key discovery for me is that people (everyone) is paying attention to what we do. Everyone! And Everything!

We’re modeling behavior and showing everyone the way forward. We’re setting boundaries and expectations. We’re creating a cultural ecosystem, or for you nerds, an Operating System.

Culture-Shaping is a serious endeavor. I hope that this 5-part series has opened your eyes, just a bit, to the depth, breadth, responsibility, and joy of Leadership Culture-Shaping.

Stay agile my friends,


#LeadersSetCulture, #LeadersShapeCulture, #CultureShaping


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