“Don’t get distracted running the business and forget to grow the people who are helping to grow the business.”
Recipes for Thoughtful Leadership and Healthy Culture by Bonnie Sussman-Versace is part cookbook, part leadership manual, and wholly actionable. You can flip through to the section that applies to your current struggles, or read it straight through—either way, you’ll find plenty of actionable insights that you can bring to your organization.
It’s important to note that this book will provide great insights for people who don’t necessarily have a “leadership” position. I think it’s useful to differentiate between “leadership” and “management”—leadership is a mindset, while “management” is part of a job description. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I’m not a leader,” you may be missing out on an opportunity to learn and grow within your role—you may not be a “manager,” but I guarantee that you have the ability to develop your leadership skills, no matter where you are on the org chart. Sussman-Versace’s book is a great introduction to principles of leadership that you can start applying today.
Make Time for Culture
"Healthy cultures start to evolve when all employees know why the company exists, where it’s going, and how the core values are to be used as guidelines for conducting every aspect of the company’s business."
An organization’s culture permeates every element of the business, from leadership and strategy to new hires and task performance. Great cultures originate with leaders who clearly communicate the core values of the organization, as well as how they inform the direction of the business. As you’ve likely seen in the news, work cultures can also be toxic, or damaging to the business (I’m thinking of Uber’s recent moment in the spotlight over their cutthroat culture).
Improving culture can feel intimidating precisely because it is so pervasive—you can’t just ask people to support each other and work together, and then have a collaborative, supportive work environment. Sussman-Versace outlines several action steps that you can take to improve your organization’s culture, but the common theme among them is to “make time.” In the hustle of day-to-day operations, concerns about culture may feel extraneous or time consuming—yet, the exact opposite is true. To excel in your operations, you need dedicated, aligned teams, who are willing to go the extra mile for your business. That’s worth making the time for.
Always Be Learning
"Consider an “each one, teach one” concept. Have two people from different departments, spend one day per month shadowing each other. Repeat this exercise throughout the company. The learning and insights for everyone will be priceless."
Use the tactic in the above quote to jump-start a learning culture for your team. I love this advice for creating a learning culture: it’s simple enough that you can implement it right now (go add it to your calendar, I’ll wait!), and powerful enough to create lasting impact. Your people are your most valuable asset—so invest in their growth, and they will reward you.
By encouraging your teams to learn from each other, you will begin to break down silos, strengthen relationships, develop “soft skills” like communication and persuasion, and learn a great deal about leadership potential that currently exists in your organization.
If you’re not in a management role, ask a member of another department to go for a coffee. You can learn a lot in a half hour—ask them what they’re working on, tell them what you’re working on, and you’ll quickly be able to capitalize on your shared knowledge and stronger relationship.
"The success we experience in our personal and professional lives is strongly influenced by our ability to build, maintain and restore relationships. The more effective we are with these skills, the more effective we will be at leading and guiding others, and the more pathways we will create for success."
Accountability is a crucial ingredient in effective relationships. When you can trust a person to do what they say they will do, you create a foundation of respect. Here at Actionable, we talk a lot about how relationships can impact engagement (which in turn influences just about any business metric you’d care to measure). Research clearly shows that the relationships that individuals have with their managers and their peers have the most impact on employee engagement. If there is a breakdown in communication, or dysfunctional relationships in place, employees are far more likely to be disengaged from their work, or seeking other opportunities. By focusing on one element of those relationships—accountability—you can lay the foundation for great relationships.
Think about it. Have you ever worked with a person who was nice enough, but always late with their deliverables, or constantly making excuses for not finishing their work? Even worse—have you ever had a manager who insisted that you answer all emails within 15 minutes, but took four days to respond to a simple request? On the flip side, when people walk the talk—deliver on promises, model good behavior and relationships, and do so with a friendly and respectful demeanor—it feels natural to respond in kind, and to be accountable for your own deliverables. Take the time you need to nurture relationships with your team, and model the kind of behavior you want to see.
Recipes for Thoughtful Leadership and Healthy Culture is a delicious (please forgive me, I’ve been resisting the urge to write puns for this entire summary), and easily digestible read for even the most time-starved manager or team member.
The central metaphor of the book—that combining various ingredients and applying elements to them will make a nourishing dish—is a great analogy for what happens in businesses and on teams every day. Leaders, and not just “managers,” have the ability to play chef: to examine the elements they have in front of them, combine as they best see fit, taste and adjust the flavours, and then enjoy the results.
How are you cooking up thoughtful leadership and healthy culture on your team?