Episode: Elements of a Great Team Culture

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Michael Hyatt: If air is all around us, why can’t you see it? And if you can’t see air, why can you feel it? To get technical about it, you really can’t see anything. What you see is the light that bounces off of it or is refracted by it. That’s why the sky appears to be blue. Light is scattered in all directions by the molecules of air. Blue light is scattered more than other colors because it travels in shorter, smaller waves.

This is why we see a blue sky most of the time. You’re not seeing the sky. You see the blue light passing through it. You don’t see the coffee table in your living room. You see the light reflected off the wood, which makes it appear brown or tan or gray. Since there’s no light at night, you can’t see the coffee table with the lights off, but it has mass. You can feel it even in the dark when you stub your toe.

Megan Hyatt Miller: Near to earth we can’t see the air because light simply passes through it. Though it enriches our bodies with oxygen, regulates the earth’s temperature, deflects the harmful rays of the sun, and exists all around us, air is completely invisible, but air has mass. There are more than 26 billion billion molecules in one liter of air, and when they move you feel them passing over your skin.

You can see the effects of the air, whether that’s a gentle breeze blowing away the clouds or hurricane force wind ripping the siding off your house. As a leader, you should learn this lesson well, because the culture of your organization, like the air you breathe, is completely invisible, yet it regulates every aspect of your team’s experience and performance.

Michael: Culture is the ether in which you live and work. It’s the unseen ambient element in which you communicate and relate to one another. Your words and actions pass through it every day. It transmits and refracts your organizational values. You can’t see culture, but you can sure feel it and see its effects. A healthy culture brings good communication, cooperation, and positive attitudes. A destructive culture carries hyper-competitiveness, passive-aggression, and complaining.

Megan: Air contains 78 percent oxygen, 21 percent nitrogen, and a tiny bit of argon and carbon dioxide. The oxygen, of course, is what we depend on. It burns the sugar in our cells to give us energy. Oxygen fuels performance.

Michael: So as a leader, here’s a question for you. What’s in the atmosphere of your organizational culture? What elements does your team breathe in day in and day out? And which of those elements are most necessary to keep your team healthy, engaged, and highly productive?

Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode we’re talking about corporate culture, and we’ll show you how you can create a high-performance environment in your organization no matter the size.

Megan: All of us want to motivate our team to achieve at a higher level, but sometimes the atmosphere around us works against us. Today we’ll show you how some leaders unwittingly allow a toxic culture to derail their team’s success, and we’ll show you how to create a healthy, functioning work environment by incorporating three key characteristics of a great culture. When we’re done, you’ll have the tools you need to create an environment where your team can thrive.

Hey, but before we get started, can I ask you a small favor? We’d love it if you would take just a minute to review this program wherever you listen to podcasts. That will really help others just like you discover the program so they can enjoy the content too. To make it really easy, we’ve actually created a page that gives you simple instructions to do this very quickly. All you have to do is go to All right. Let’s get started.

Dad, I love this topic because I’ve put a lot of energy into building the culture, as well as you have too, at Michael Hyatt & Company, but I can imagine a lot of our listeners are saying, “What?” As leaders, we’re so task-oriented so often the concept of corporate culture can seem a little squishy, like adding massage chairs to the break room.

Michael: Which is not a bad idea, by the way.

Megan: Which is not a bad idea. I like that. Somebody put that on the list. But it might even seem like a luxury. We’re thinking, “Hey, just suck it up and do your job.” Right? But the truth is culture is very important in every organization, more so than we really realize.

Michael: Absolutely. It’s vital. It shapes every aspect of our organization, and more importantly, my thesis is it drives results. If you have a toxic corporate culture, it’s going to impede your results. At the end of the day, we’re in business to produce results. We’re in ministry, even, to produce results. Whatever we’re doing, we’re there to accomplish something. The culture can either aid in that or keep us from accomplishing it.

Culture really, and I think it’s important to define this… We talked about it a little bit at the beginning about it being like air, but it’s the unseen environment around us, and it’s largely invisible to us. It’s almost like fish. The fish can’t see the water. They’re not aware they’re in the water until they get yanked out of the water. Then holy smokes! There’s something else besides the water. Well, I think sometimes it’s that way for us.

When you come into a company and you’re brand new, you’re very aware of the culture, but then you get acclimated and assimilated, and pretty soon you’re not aware of it anymore. Now, when you get taken out of it you might miss what you had or you might realize what a toll it was taking on you and you’re glad you’re gone, but that culture thing is real, just like air. We can’t live without it. It’s impossible to have an organization without it. The only question is not whether you’re going to have culture but whether it’s going to be helpful in producing the results you want or not helpful.

Megan: Right. What we’re really talking about today is that leaders have the ability to shape culture. This is not something you either experience positively or negatively. That’s true for your team, but as a leader, you have the chance to shape this, and it can be good or bad.

Michael: Yeah, it can. I think a lot of leaders are unaware of this. They just kind of think of culture as something that either is or it isn’t. I’ve even heard leaders complain about their culture as though they had no control or no agency in the matter. The truth is (and I love this quote from Larry Bossidy, which we’ll probably get into later on) if you want to change the culture of an organization, all you have to do is change the behavior of its leaders, because it flows down.

People take their cues looking at their supervisors, looking at the executive team, whatever. People are looking to those people, how they respond to one another, whether they’re fast in response or slow in response, late to meetings or punctual, or whether they micromanage or whether they have accountability. All of these things that seem like the stuff of management are really the stuff of culture.

Megan: And ultimately the stuff of leadership.

Michael: Exactly.

Megan: So if you don’t like the culture of your organization, instead of looking with blame at your team you probably need to take a good long look in the mirror.

Michael: Totally. I just want to say again we do have agency over this. I think we have to become aware of it, and then we can begin to shape it and ask ourselves the question, “What kind of culture do I want to work in?” I want to give a little bit of a caution here, too, because I think it’s easy for us, if we’re in the middle of an organization, not the CEO or COO, to just say, “Well, I can’t affect culture.” Right? You think, “That’s the CEO’s job” or “That’s the executive team’s job, but that’s not my job, and, in fact, I can’t change it.” So people just passively sit and complain about it.

The truth is you can shape it. You can shape it below you. You can shape it around you. You may not be able to influence top management or the CEO, but you can definitely create sort of a microenvironment that is a microculture within your organization, what you preside over. I did this in my last big corporate job. I was the CEO at Thomas Nelson Publishers. At that point, yes, I could influence the culture, but I was influencing it long before that.

I decided, for example, in my division that we were going to practice open-book management. I was going to share the financial performance of the company with the people in my division, at least the divisional performance. I didn’t ask for permission, which usually slows down the process. I just decided I was going to do it and I’d ask forgiveness later. It radically changed performance, because when people saw we were not performing that well and that our expenses were out of control, guess what. They rolled up their sleeves and became part of the solution.

Megan: Sometimes if you can affect results, then you have a seat at the table with an executive team, for example, or the CEO of your company, if that’s not your position now, to influence culture, because they’re like, “Hey, whatever you’re doing is working and we need more of that,” and all of a sudden they’re going to listen in a way they might not have otherwise.

Michael: Totally. By the time senior management figured out what I was doing, my results had improved so dramatically they said, “Look. We don’t really care what you’re doing, and we’re not sure we’re going to impose it on everybody else or promote it, but you just keep doing what you’re doing because we like the results.” It didn’t hurt me either, because I eventually became the CEO of the company.

Megan: That’s fantastic. A lot of people when they think about leadership think vision is the most important thing, but that’s not what you think. Tell me why. Not that it’s unimportant. I don’t mean that.

Michael: Yeah, I’m not sure I would say that. Let me explain why. I think culture does trump vision, because you can have all of these grandiose ideas, this clarity about your vision, but if you don’t attend to the culture, guess what’s going to happen. The culture is going to be like the undertow of a current, and it’s going to drag you back to sea. You have to look at the culture and say, “Okay, I’ve got the vision. That’s awesome.” And you have to have a vision, but more importantly, you have to have a vision for your culture.

The culture has to change so it serves your bigger vision of what you’re in business for or what your organization is all about. So yeah, culture is critically important. A lot of leaders wonder, for example… They say, “I have this big vision. I have all this stuff I want to do, but I can’t get traction. My organization seems to continually be bogged down in too many meetings or infighting or micromanaging,” or whatever it is. Well, guess what. It’s the culture that’s creating that undertow. Unless you become aware of it and have an adult conversation with the players who can impact it, you’re never going to achieve your vision.

Megan: When you were talking I was just thinking about how vision is all about strategy and the big picture, but culture is what enables you to execute.

Michael: Definitely.

Megan: You can have the most compelling vision ever, but if you don’t have healthy culture and a productive culture in your organization you’ll never be able to execute against the vision or the strategy you’ve laid out as the leader. I think a lot of leaders struggle with execution and getting their teams to execute. This is kind of like where the rubber meets the road in leadership and in driving results.

Michael: Yeah. So I’m going to encourage people listening to this. Don’t tune out because you think culture is a soft subject. This is integral to you accomplishing your biggest results. If you don’t get this figured out, you’re not going to accomplish what you hope to accomplish.

Megan: Agreed. So I have a question for you. This is like a little diagnostic. If you’re a leader and you’re wondering whether or not your culture is healthy, what are some characteristics of an unhealthy culture?

Michael: Well, for example, if you have a lack of trust or there’s a lack of accountability. Nobody steps up and takes responsibility. There’s a lot of finger pointing. If you have micromanaging going on or silos and hyper-competition; if there’s a lot of office gossip going on; absentee leadership or leaders who abdicate (you know, go behind their closed doors and expect people to get results without any direction); poor work habits, like missing deadlines or tardiness; low engagement (you know, people couldn’t care less; they’re kind of checked out); disrespect of peers; insubordination.

We can go on and on and on. All of the problems we typically point to in an organization. If we have too many of those, we have a culture problem that needs to be addressed. You can bring in programs on execution. You can bring in programs on productivity and task management and goal setting and vision casting, blah, blah, blah. But if you don’t do the culture thing, none of that’s going to matter.

Megan: Totally agree. You have to swim upstream. I love this quote by Simon Sinek that says, “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”

Michael: Love that.

Megan: Your customers are never going to be more enthusiastic about what you’re doing than your own employees.

Michael: Here’s how I look at the hierarchy. My job as the CEO is to take care of my employees, my team first. They come first. If I take care of them…guess what…they will take care of the customers.

Megan: It’s kind of like a trickle-down thing. It’ll flow all the way down to the customers and to your results, but you can’t bypass your team.

Michael: That’s right. So I take care of the team, the team takes care of the customers, and then what happens? Then the customers take care of the company. It’s contrary to how we normally think about it, but that’s the cycle, and that’s how it needs to work.

Megan: Kind of self-reinforcing. So we know that culture is hugely important to the success of any team, and you’ve identified three elements of a great team culture. Let’s get started with the first one now.

Michael: The first element is high relationship. The workplace is a social environment. If there’s one thing we need to remember, it is that we’re not robots. We are social beings. The way we interact with each other contributes to our happiness and our effectiveness, both on the job and off. We all deal with relationships at work, even remote workers.

Relational health makes for workplace health. You’re never going to be better than the quality of your relationships, and nothing is going to drive culture more than those relationships. There was this Gallup study, and it said having a best friend at work is a powerful predictor of workplace engagement.

Megan: I love that.

Michael: I do too. Think about it. This is very counterintuitive for the kind of leader who fancies himself as rogue or a lone wolf or “I’m going to do it by myself.” You know, what Jim Collins calls the “genius with a thousand helpers.” No. It’s better when it’s a collaborative affair. There was a two-year study at Google that concluded that psychological safety was the number-one requirement of a healthy team.

Megan: That is fascinating to me.

Michael: Think about that. That’s defined as being able to take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed. So just a quick check here. At Michael Hyatt & Company, do you think we’ve provided this?

Megan: I do. And I think we’ve been really intentional about doing it. It’s interesting, because probably as most of our listeners know, our team is primarily virtual. Everybody, for the most part, lives locally except a handful of people, but we don’t work in the same office all the time, which means we have to be very intentional about not allowing our interactions with one another to become transactional.

I think this can happen in any organization, where your conversations with your coworkers are really about what you need and what they need from you, and it just becomes kind of back and forth, but especially if you have any degree of remote work you have to be intentional about building that relational glue that holds everybody together.

So we have been very intentional about creating opportunities for connection, both inside our virtual work environment and then in person when we get together on a quarterly basis. We have a team training coming up in a couple of weeks, and we’re actually going to take everybody to a baseball game. You don’t even know this because I haven’t had time to tell you yet.

Michael: This is the first time I’m hearing this. I love baseball.

Megan: I know. This is actually Larry’s idea. Larry is sitting over here off to the side. He’s one of our writers for the show. He brought it up, and I was like, “That’s a great idea.” What better time to go to a baseball game than early May? But it’s not really about baseball, because you and I aren’t really that big of sports fans. It’s just about doing something together and the fun of sitting in the stands with our team and cracking jokes and talking about the game and all that. That’s critical. That’s glue for the organization, and it will drive results. All that to say I think it’s important to prioritize this.

Michael: I know in the past there have been some of our team members who have felt like they could bail out of some of that stuff.

Megan: Yeah, not anymore. You must have fun.

Michael: You kind of addressed that this week. You’re going to have fun whether you like it or not.

Megan: Mandatory fun.

Michael: Six indicators of a healthy relational culture. Actually, Larry wrote these down and we went back and forth on it, but this is cool. Everyone on the team contributes, but no one dominates.

Megan: Oh, I like that.

Michael: I love that. Well said, Larry. High levels of eye contact. That’s a very subtle thing, but when people aren’t looking you in the eye… Think about this with your kids.

Megan: Totally.

Michael: They’re either hurt…you’ve hurt them in some way…or they’re hiding something. There’s nothing positive about that. There may be past traumas and all that. We won’t get into all that.

Megan: What’s interesting to me about this, as it relates to felt safety above, is these are all cues to your primitive brain that you’re safe. When you make eye contact with someone… Think about when you don’t make eye contact as an adult with someone. It’s because you don’t feel safe or you feel threatened or you’re angry at somebody. So if you make eye contact, it’s a subtle, nonverbal cue to your primitive brain that says you’re safe.

Michael: Okay, I want to tell you a story. Early in my career, I got fired from a job.

Megan: Was it the pizza job?

Michael: No. I’m not going to give it away because it’s…

Megan: It’s another one?

Michael: It’s another one. I’ve been fired about three times. But I got fired from a job. I came back after a company function, and I said to Gail, my wife, “I think I’m in trouble.” She said, “Why?” and I said, “Because the CEO wouldn’t look me in the eye.”

Megan: Wow.

Michael: I know that in my positions as a leader when I’ve decided I was going to let somebody go, it was very difficult to look them in the eye, because I knew what was coming. So this eye contact thing is important. But I want to get on to the other indicators too. Positive body language and gesturing. You can’t read 100 percent into this, but when people are kind of sitting back with their arms crossed with a scowl on their face, that’s not generally a good thing either. I remember when I was in partnership with Robert Wolgemuth whom you know well. He came to me one day and just said, “You know, I really think you need to work on your face.”

Megan: Like have work done?

Michael: I was insecure about the way I looked anyway, but what do you mean get work? He said, “Well, here’s the thing. You kind of look like you’re always mad.” I realized that, and I notice that in other leaders too. I think it’s actually just they’re thinking intently.

Megan: It’s focus. Yeah.

Michael: But it communicates the wrong things, and I think as leaders we have to be very aware of that. Here’s another indicator of healthy relational culture: inter-team communication. In other words, people don’t feel compelled to pass everything through the leader. There’s collaboration that’s happening. People are just getting stuff done. Members share information with one another.

Megan: Again, they feel safe. They’re not territorial.

Michael: When people are not sharing their contacts, not sharing their information, that’s a sign of an unhealthy culture. Then respectful, polite interactions. I want to say here that we don’t have to avoid disagreement. In fact, I like to encourage debate. Sometimes I like to just throw a hand grenade in the middle of the discussion just to spark that kind of debate, because I really think the best thinking comes out of vigorous debate. But I want people to know they can disagree with me.

Megan: They have to know they’re safe for that to actually be effective.

Michael: That’s right. They can disagree with one another, and that’s fine. These are signs or indicators of healthy relational culture.

Megan: The opposite of respectful, polite interaction would be sarcasm, cynicism, all of that, which is all kind of the same thing.

Michael: I’m sorry. We have to stop and talk about cynicism for a minute, because this is a poison in your culture. This will kill your organization if you allow it to exist. The way it looks is every time there’s a new idea that’s brought up people roll their eyes. They’re just cynical. It’s like they’ve heard it before. They’ve heard this same speech from the CEO or their departmental leader about what we’re going to do this year, and it never works out, and it’s just like, “Oh brother.”

This is why it’s important to counteract that, that in your organization you focus on wins, and you don’t just make them up but you actually have wins so people have confidence not just in you as a leader but in the team’s ability to execute. Does that make sense?

Megan: Absolutely.

Michael: When I see cynicism I confront it. I had one very cynical leader in an organization I ran, and it was poisoning every conversation. He was the guy who was always muttering under his breath, but I could never quite hear what he was saying. He was just kind of dissing whatever it was I was trying to communicate.

There would be these side conversations and people laughing, because they weren’t engaged. They were just cynical. I finally just had to sit down with him and say, “That’s not going to work here. I get why you might want to be cynical, but I don’t really think you want to be a cynical person.” The sad part about it was he didn’t change. I literally had to let him go over that.

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Megan: So the first element of a great team culture is that it’s highly relational. What’s second on your list, Dad?

Michael: The second element is high candor. This seems to be going against being relational, but it doesn’t. In fact, it supports healthy relationships. When we’re honest with one another, when we can speak the truth in love, that’s a really positive thing. Again, it goes back to people feeling safe with one another. In an unhealthy culture, candor is discouraged.

We see this at the top levels of politics sometimes. We see it in the top levels of corporations, where people surround themselves with people who will never disagree with them. Here’s the tragedy of that. As a leader, the more you advance in your career, the more successful you become, the more dependent you become on the people under you or who you’re leading to give you information.

Megan: That is so true.

Michael: If they’re coloring that or skewing it because they don’t want a volatile reaction from you (and you’re just the messenger, right?) they will start feeding you only good news.

Megan: This is why our relationship works so well. I’m always going to tell you the truth, whether it’s you have something in your teeth or I think your idea is not good. You’re covered.

Michael: I love that. Of course, I have a family that does this too. My wife does it. Your sisters do it. That’s really healthy for me.

Megan: It is. And we all need that.

Michael: We all need that. Absolutely. Here’s the important thing as a leader and what is your responsibility. You have to create a culture that’s safe for dissent. If somebody disagrees with you, you have to welcome that and be curious, because if you sort of attack that perspective, people are going to retreat. They’re not going to disagree with you, because politically, maybe even in terms of their career or maybe even their livelihood might be in jeopardy.

Megan: Which means as a leader you really have to keep your ego in check. There cannot be any sacred cows.

Michael: There can’t be. And when you blow it, and I have certainly blown it in the past, where I have overreacted or disagreed in a way that used my power in a way that maybe I was unaware of but shut somebody else down…to have to go to them and acknowledge it and ask their forgiveness, because if you don’t do that, the organization will shut down.

Those stories always become bigger in retrospect than they are in the moment. You may think to yourself, “Well, I just disagreed with him.” From the other person’s perspective, they walk out of the meeting, go home, and tell their spouse, “You would not believe. He yelled at me in the meeting.”

Megan: Right. Everything is magnified.

Michael: Everything is magnified. “He shut me down in the meeting.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, I’m never going to bring that up again.”

You’re constantly training people how they’re going to treat you. I think it’s important to articulate this. “We want candor in the organization. I want you to feel the freedom to disagree with me.” Then you’d better put that into practice, because people will test you on it. They’ll test you on little small things, and if you don’t allow those things to stand and validate them and take them to heart, they won’t get to the big hairy stuff that they see that you don’t.

Megan: It’s really true. It reminds me of that story in The Culture Code. I’ve been reading that book along with our LeaderBox subscribers. He tells a story about the Navy SEALs and their after-action review process and how one of the most important phrases they share is “I screwed up.” That phrase is really important for the leaders to be able to say, because it’s important for their subordinates to be able to say.

It’s one of those things you will never admit as somebody on a team unless your leader has done it first, because you have to know it’s safe. So it’s really powerful for the leader to intentionally make him or herself vulnerable by admitting their mistakes in a public way. I think that’s what we’re talking about here.

Michael: Well, because you’re teaching people how to do that as well. If the leader is always deflecting, never taking responsibility, it teaches people to do the exact same thing.

Megan: All right. So how do we develop an environment of candor, either in our organization or on our team?

Michael: Five ways. First of all, as a leader, admit your mistakes.

Megan: “I screwed up.” Right?

Michael: That’s right. Quit pretending you have it all together and you never make mistakes. I used to think as a young parent that if I admitted my mistakes to you girls you would lose respect for me. The truth is it’s exactly the opposite. When somebody admits they were wrong, your respect goes up for them. Secondly, communicate clear and specific expectations. This sets the ground rules for cooperation and makes it easy for people to play in a safe area because there’s a fence around the conversation.

Thirdly, model disagreement with questioning to show you can discuss ideas without having to win. By the way, I was just thinking about this. You follow Jeff Goins, our good friend, on Facebook. Jeff asks these really provocative questions on Facebook all the time. They’re almost incendiary, but no matter what somebody responds, he’s always curious. I think he’s doing a great job of modeling what it means to have civil discourse in an age where so many people are polarized. Anyway, it’s a good example. If you don’t follow Jeff Goins, do that.

Fourthly, consistently use after-action reviews so critical examination is part of the culture. This is a tool we’ve developed that we teach as part of Free to Focus, but it’s basically something we learned from the US military, which is that after an event, after a campaign, after a meeting…

Megan: After a big failure, for example.

Michael: …after a big failure, we go in and assess it. We talk about, “What are the things we want to keep that we love? What are the things we want to improve? What are the things we want to stop doing? What are the things we want to start doing?” Use that so you can become more self-aware and self-reflective. Finally, be honest, but not brutally honest. Sometimes we have people who feel like unless they’re brutally honest they’re not really being honest, and they hurt people’s feelings when they didn’t need to.

Megan: The point is constructive feedback. It should ultimately be building something, not tearing it down. The point is to build, not tear down.

Michael: Think of it as like an experienced nurse who’s drawing your blood.

Megan: Versus the opposite.

Michael: If you have an experienced nurse… This just happened to me last week, so it’s very present to me. I went in and had my blood drawn, and I didn’t even feel the pin stick. That’s what you want to do. You want to give people information they can use in a way that doesn’t create collateral damage.

Megan: Dad, that reminds me of a quote from Paul Santagata, who is the head of industry at Google. He says there is no team without trust.

Michael: I love that.

Megan: I think we could add that there is no team without truth, that those two really have to go together.

Michael: There’s no culture, not a healthy culture without truth.

Megan: Absolutely. Okay, we know great teams are highly relational and that they also have a high candor environment. What’s the third element of a great team culture?

Michael: The third element is high purpose. As I’ve said before, people lose their way when they lose their why. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, said it’s very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. This is one of the big benefits of Millennials in the workplace, because they’ve kind of brought us back to this. It’s more than efficiency. It’s more than results. All of that has to be sort of encapsulated in meaning. By the way, just to shout out to the Millennials… I hear people diss on the Millennials all the time. We have awesome Millennials at our company.

Megan: We do.

Michael: Part of it is this very thing. They’re very focused on meaning at work.

Megan: Very purpose-driven.

Michael: A 2015 study of Millennials showed that purpose matters in employment. In fact, 56 percent had ruled out working for a company because of a lack of fit in values. In other words, they couldn’t connect that company’s purpose with their own sense of purpose. This study shows a strong link between employees having a sense of purpose and job satisfaction, financial performance, and recruiting.

By the way, that Google study we mentioned earlier also found purpose essential for team success. Specifically, and I’m quoting here, “Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?” That’s a great question to ask. “Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?”

Megan: That reminds me… We had lunch with our marketing team this week. One of the things we do is meet with one of our teams each month. We rotate through them throughout the year so we stay connected. One of our new team members on that team… We were kind of asking what they’re loving about their job as we went around the table at lunch, and he said the thing he loves the most is the connection to our mission. He feels like the work he’s doing every day matters.

I thought, man, that’s so easy as a leader to forget, because it’s kind of just the environment we’re swimming in, but for people who come in, that is so meaningful to them. To feel like you get to spend your day doing something that has purpose is oftentimes far more motivating than the financial rewards of a job.

Michael: Yeah, totally. When we say our purpose as an organization is to “help overwhelmed high achievers win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence,” for us, that’s nowhere more important than in our own organization. We want our people to be able to do all three of those. As a leader, you can create a culture of purpose by, first of all, articulating your company’s purpose or sometimes called a mission statement.

I just rattled off ours, but it’s more than just something we hang on a plaque in the lobby. First of all, we don’t have a lobby. At least yet. But it’s something that really guides our organization. We plaster it everywhere, we repeat it often, and it’s important to shape the purpose of the organization and to shape that sense of purpose within our culture.

Even beyond that, it’s important to have a set of clearly defined core values. These are the priorities, as an organization, that govern our behavior and our interactions with one another. In our organization, for example, we have eight of these: unyielding integrity, prioritizing people, infectious enthusiasm, high leverage, relentless wow, highly responsive, intentional margin, and continuous growth.

Now what’s really important is that those values also don’t just become something you hang on a wall but that you flesh them out (we’re in the process of this now, and we’re about probably three quarters of the way done), translating those values into behaviors. In other words, if those values aren’t shaping your behaviors as an organization and, even more importantly, aren’t reflective of your behaviors as an organization…

Megan: Meaning, they can’t be aspirational. It can’t just be something you hope to become.

Michael: That’s right. They have to really reflect how you operate. If not, guess what happens. It creates cynicism. People roll their eyes and go, “Pfft! Yeah right. We don’t do any of that.” So you have to practice this, and when you fall short (like we’ve fallen short on the intentional margin sometimes when we’ve asked people to work on weekends, something we abhor), then you have to acknowledge that. “That’s in conflict with one of our core values.”

We have to be able to translate these into behaviors so they don’t just become something we hang on the wall. They become the tools with which we shape culture. I don’t think anything is more important than that. I call it the core ideology. But having a purpose statement, a vision statement, which we’ve talked about in another episode, and then also having a clear set of core values.

I want to say this too. As leaders, it’s easy to think that once we’ve defined this…you know, we’ve memorialized it, put it in a notebook, talked about it at an annual meeting…then we’re done, but I remember Andy Stanley saying “Vision leaks.” I think all this core ideology stuff, whether it’s purpose, vision, or core values… All of it leaks.

If you don’t keep refilling the bucket as a leader and keep talking about it… During the recession, I had an executive coach who said to me, “You have to keep talking about the purpose and the vision and the core values.” I said, “I’ve already talked about that.” I said, “I’m sick and tired of talking about it.” She said, “When you’re sick and tired, you’re about half done.”

Megan: Wow, that’s amazing.

Michael: So I kept talking about it.

Megan: It’s a good way to calibrate how often you need to be talking about this stuff.

Michael: I know. Because, again, vision leaks. People are going to forget it, and particularly in the daily engagement of the battle things become very transactional, things lose their meaning, and people aren’t connected to that bigger story. It’s our job, as leaders, to keep connecting them to that, because that sense of purpose drives culture.

Megan: The other thing I was thinking about when you were talking is that not only do we have to have these values and communicate them to our team with great frequency; we also have to measure our own personal behavior against the values and constantly be truing that up. That’s really important.

Probably the most effective way you can transmit culture and influence your team to come into alignment with the culture you want to create is to live those things yourself and, if you notice you’re out of alignment, to call it out, to really bring it to the forefront, to even explain the why behind what you’re doing and the behaviors you have, positively or negatively. That will help to transmit culture in a very effective way, because it’s infectious. I think you can really leverage that attribute of culture as a leader. It’s as much an inside job as it is an outside job.

Michael: There’s a sense in which it’s almost like the incarnational principle of leadership. Until these values become incarnate in us, people don’t have a visible representation of what it looks like, and it’s just not as compelling.

Megan: All right. Today we’ve learned you can create a great team culture by providing an environment that’s highly relational, high candor, and high purpose. As we come in for a landing, I just want to remind you that culture matters. As the leader, you have the power to create a team culture that will help others deliver their best contribution and, in turn, amazing results. Dad, any final thoughts for today?

Michael: Yeah. I think it comes back to us as leaders. If we want to change our culture, we have to change our behavior. It goes back to that quote from Larry Bossidy, and I think it’s absolutely true here. Or there’s a quote that’s often attributed to Gandhi. I don’t know if he actually said it or not. “Become the change you want to see.” For us, if we want more integrity in our organization, if we want more positivity, if we want more collaboration, we have to make sure we’re demonstrating those things by our behavior. If we don’t, it’s not going to work.

Megan: That reminds me of the episode we did just a few episodes back on the law of replication in leadership. If you haven’t listened to that, that’s going to be well worth your time. All right. As we close, I want to thank our sponsor LeaderBox. It provides automated personal development in a box. Check it out at

Michael: If you enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at

Megan: If you’ve liked the show, we’d love for you to tell your friends and colleagues about it, and also we’d love for you to leave a review for us. We’ve made it super easy for you. All you have to do is go to This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.

Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller and Lawrence Wilson.

Megan: Our recording engineer is Mike Burns.

Michael: Our production assistant is Aleshia Curry.

Megan: And our intern is Winston.

Michael: We invite you to join us next week when we’re going to talk about the seemingly impossible task of managing high achievers. Until then, lea