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The Culture Challenge

Leaders set the standard. Recently, I read an article (excerpt below) that reminded me about the vital importance of leadership culture. This week, we’re talking about the culture challenge faced in leadership, and ways to overcome and transform poor culture.

“The culture inside the Nebraska locker room isn’t OK.

Scott Frost made that apparent during the bye week, when on his radio show he said there was a “portion” of the team not ready to play at Minnesota, where the Gophers blew out the Huskers.

He went all in and called out his team Saturday, saying his team is ‘just OK’ and that he’s not ‘going to be happy with just OK.'” (source)

As a fan of all things Nebraska, this has been a particularly painful football season. While most of the last twenty years has been a disappointment for one of college football’s most storied and proud programs, this one hurts deeply.

Why?

The expectations were different. The season was supposed to be different. The outcome was supposed to be different.

Year two of a coach’s tenure is supposed to see improvement. Year two of Scott Frost’s tenure at Nebraska, his alma mater, was supposed to be glorious.

Blog Post Title on background of workplace
The Culture Challenge

Instead, eight games into the season, analysts are reporting how the culture is, ‘just okay.’

Just Okay Is Not Okay

When talking about culture, on the field or in a company, just okay is not okay. Fighting okay is a big part of the culture challenge faced by leaders.

Leaders set the standard of conduct. They set behavior expectations, acceptable methods of social interaction, as well as the vision and direction of an organization. When someone, or a group of someones, fails to live up to those standards, it is up to the leadership to change the culture.

There are, of course, many ways to do this. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to unpack the importance of culture in leadership. We’ll examine how to create a new culture if you’re in a startup, and how to change a bad culture.

For now, here are three principles to use no matter what your current circumstance is.

1.) Set a Clear and Compelling Vision

Like a masterpiece painting, a healthy culture is a product of vision and hard work. Longing for a great culture and actually having one are two different things. 

As a leader, spend time intentionally investing in the culture and direction of your company, team, and surrounding people.

What does the workday “feel like?

How do people act?

What’s the end goal?

How does your department handle promotions? Confrontations? Missed sales goals or development targets?

If you can’t articulate your culture clearly and simply, it needs more work. Worse yet, if it doesn’t inspire others to be better, it will ultimately bring harm.

The goal is to articulate the what and why of the organization in a way that shapes, inspires, and transforms.

2.) Inspire Others to Greatness

Once the vision is clear and compelling it should inspire those that hear it. It should be a place where people outside of the organization say, “I want to work for them.

Inside the organization, there should be tangible feelings of joy, clarity, and a desire for growth. This doesn’t mean that people necessarily want to work longer hours, but it means that they want to work harder in the hours they do work. Why? Because their work has meaning and purpose. They know that they are contributing to something greater, something beyond themselves.

The goal is to call forth the highest level of character achievement and belonging.

3.) Take Immediate Action

Violations of the culture will happen. Eventually, someone will know that a tardy might go unnoticed and regularly start showing up late. Part of a healthy culture is dealing with problems that arise quickly, fairly, and with the goal of restoration. Discipline happens to correct behavior and hold the standard high, not to deliver punishment.

Tardiness is corrected not by docking pay, but by showing them what is missed or at stake when they fail to show up on time. Poor attitude with customers doesn’t mean demotion, it means providing better training to help them deal with the stress of other people’s bad attitudes. 

The goal is to restore the person to their own personal standard of morals, to the team, and to the vision and culture set in the company.

Transforming Culture

The challenge presented to Scott Frost is daunting. Not only does he have to instill his good culture, but he also has to overcome the bad culture he inherited. On top of that, he has to rewrite twenty years of poor standards.

For many of us, we face similar situations. Family histories, company profits, and personal standards all confront us on a daily basis. Some we inherit, others we create. All need to be transformed and redeemed.

Creating a compelling, inspiring, and consistent culture is not easy. But it is worth it.

Last week we examined the necessity of talking about burnout.

If we want to prevent leadership burnout, we must first acknowledge it. This week, we want to create a plan for resisting burnout. Below are four things Jesus did. We can implement similar and visions to have sustained leadership success.

Resisting Burnout

Jesus, from the very inception of his public ministry, took intentional action steps to prevent ministry burnout. Aware of the potential dangers and the high price of public demand, Jesus regularly withdrew and practiced steps to healthy spirituality.

Resisting Burnout is a process.

Here are 4 action steps for leadership health.

1.) Clarity in Calling

Jesus’ first act after his baptism was to withdraw to the wilderness and develop clarity in his calling. Christians claim Jesus as God and  therefore temptations he faces in Luke four have often been thought of as “no big deal.” The mindset is that if God can’t sin, these temptations didn’t really bother Jesus. This sells the narrative short. The real temptations behind all of these are what kind of Messiah Jesus is going to be. Behind each of these temptations is a short cut.

Leadership Shortcuts

In the first temptation, he is tempted to transform rocks into bread.

His physical hunger, a legitimate need after forty days in the wilderness, is becoming the focus of the first attack. Clearly there is legitimacy to this need; after forty days of fasting, Jesus needs to eat. The shortcut is to be a one-stop food production worker. Thousands of enslaved Israelites are about to meet him and would love the chance at free food. Satan knows that if Jesus stays busy producing food for the masses, he will never have time or be a threat to conquer death and sin.

We can face similar temptations in our own leadership journey. People will look to us to help them accomplish good things. But good is the enemy of great. Don’t take your eyes off your ultimate calling by settling for something less. Resisting burnout requires clarity of vision.

The second temptation is to worship Satan and be given the status of ruler over the earth.

Satan’s hope here is to usurp God’s authority in the life of Jesus with his own. If Jesus worships Satan, then there is no need for a political-religious showdown with the local rulers. The status quo can be maintained.

Wise leadership knows when to upset the status quo and start a new direction. Courageous leadership takes action when action is required, knowing that the end destination will be worth the temporary pain of change. Resisting burnout requires courageous action.

The final temptation is to jump from the temple and be miraculously saved by angels.

Enthralled masses would soon want to follow this daredevil, Jesus. He would be so busy planning his next death-defying escape that he wouldn’t have time for social and religious transformation. Always needing to please the crowd, Jesus would waste his days performing magic tricks instead of freeing enslaved people.

Called leaders do not settle for being crowd-pleasers. Instead, while they hope to inspire those that follow them, they are more concerned about doing what is right and living in the full depth of their calling. Resisting burnout requires internal strength.

The Danger of Settling

The dangerous grounds for each of these is that Jesus ends up doing all of these tasks any way.

  • Jesus does feed the hungry masses in spectacular ways.
  • He does perform miracles that draw crowds
  • He is crowned and given authority over the earth.

Yet as it relates to burnout prevention we see something important: Jesus does and is able to accomplish these things because he first spent time clarifying his calling and who he was in God. Leaders must use this same sort of diligence.

There will always be the temptation for leaders to fall prey to these temptations in one way or another: the need for validation, the false sense of urgency, or the cheap thrill of mindless entertainment.

Only when someone has been sufficiently grounded in both calling and character are they able to produce lasting and beneficial leadership.

2.) Solitude and Prayer

Another important rhythm that Jesus engages in is to regularly retreat for prayer and solitude. One author records,

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

The demands of leadership are tiring to the body and the soul. By instilling regular rhythms of rest and retreat, leaders can fight against fatigue.

Regular intervals might include:

  • Daily disciplines like prayer, exercise, and meditation.
  • Monthly half-day getaways for extended silence away from technology.
  • Quarterly retreats for planning and visioning.
  • Yearly vacations and times of Sabbath rest.

3.) Focus On The Right Perspectives

The Gospel of Mark records a telling story about Jesus’ perspectives in ministry. Even in the midst of tremendous need, Jesus tells his disciples that it is time to move on from one location to another. He reminds them that they must travel throughout the countryside and to other towns and villages.

The current population wants Jesus to localized and claim him as their own. Jesus refutes this desire and offers a larger perspective about the work he is up to.

Leaders today will face similar temptations. Getting stuck into work ruts, ignoring vision for the day-to-day mundane, the desire to be liked, or the inability to say no. Called and courageous leaders must resist all of these temptations.

4.) Personal Relationships

Two key markers are important to note in an examination of Jesus’ personal relationships.

First, there is the frustration of isolation. The elevation of the leader in the mind of the organization often leaves them with few (if any) close friends or trusted confidants. All relationships essentially become working relationships and lack a personal feel. Jesus builds a personal ministry with close confidants, not only seeking to train the disciples but to confide in them and relate to them as people. Jesus, in eating with his followers and in visiting their homes, shows that while he is here to accomplish a mission, people are the focus and deserve his best.

Second is Jesus’ investment in others. Jesus spent significant time investing in other people: his twelve disciples, a larger group of seventy-two followers, and the masses. Within each of these spheres, he invests in the well-being of others through mentoring, training and education.

What is often lost in the hectic pace of leadership is a commitment to invest, mentor, and train others. When tasks become more important than people and result more important than a process, leaders lose the opportunity for influence. To break free from this misaligned perspective, leaders must regain focus on investing time with people and bring them into further stages of development.

 

Need help or guidance? Schedule a free strategy session to help you in resisting burnout.

Setting the Stage

In the back of the lobby, I burst into tears. The conference was over, but that wasn’t why I was crying. Instead, I felt like I was alone. The conference itself was fantastic. High energy, excellent learning, great camaraderie. Yet somehow, I felt excluded. The conference was designed for church planters, and I wasn’t one. Instead, I was struggling to turn around an already established church. I had attended hoping to gain some insight and left disappointed. The message I received was, “Your job is too hard, too difficult, and too low of a success rate. Try something different instead.

That was my introduction to the world of burnout. It started me on a nearly decade long journey of trying to help people overcome it. It’s what led me to doctoral school and to start my coaching business. The reality of burnout among high performing leaders is what fuels me to get up and work every day. It’s beatable. It’s preventable. It’s avoidable.

Talk About Burnout

As it turns out, one of the easiest ways to break both the stigma and the devastating influences of burnout is to talk about it. In one interview I conducted with a mental health professional and professor, he said, “We talk about it. We talk about it a lot … we frame it as an ethical mandate and don’t give people a choice. We tell them from day one that they have an ethical mandate and responsibility to themselves, their clients, and to God to be healthy in all areas of their life.”

For him, the discussion of mental health and burnout is a necessary conversation. It’s the only way to stop it.

So let’s talk about it.

There are two primary foci that need to be addressed to create a longterm sustainable solution to burnout. One focus is the personal sphere and the second is the cultural dimension. It is this cultural dimension that is often overlooked.

Maslach and Leiter in their book The Truth About Burnout highlight the great disservice that is done when burnout is discussed only in terms of the personal sphere.

“The conventional wisdom is that burnout is primarily a problem of the individual. That is, people burnout out because of flaws in their characters, behavior, or productivity. According to this perspective, people are the problem, and the solution is to change them or get rid of them.

But our research argues most emphatically otherwise. As a result of extensive study, we believe that burnout is not a problem of the people themselves but of the social environment in which people work. The structure and functioning of the workplace shape how people interact with one another and how they carry out their jobs. When the workplace does not recognize the human side of work, then the risk of burnout grows, carrying a high price with it.”

Cultural fit is just as responsible for burnout as the personal sphere, and to ignore either one of these equations does harm to all those involved.  The responsibility for healthy leadership involves both the personal mandate for care and a cultural level of agreeability.

The trouble with burnout is that there is more than physical and task-related demands. Since all jobs carry a myriad of stressors, there are also the demands of time, spiritual resources, and availability. Contemporary leaders are expected to lead like a CEO, steward financial resources, care for their own physical bodies, maintain family responsibilities, invest in others, commit to overtime, manage the team, and produce tangible results.

The end result is extreme fatigue and burnout.

A Quick Tip Win

We can’t possibly hope to stop the burnout trend in a single blog post (or even a blog series). But I do hope to make a difference. (Quick side note: this is why I switched to the weekly posting schedule. We’re going to take a week to talk about this on my various social media platforms, so if you’re not following me in other places, now is a great time to do so):

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But, if you’re feeling that overwhelm set in and know that burnout is coming if you keep your current pace up, here are three quick things you can do to help fight against this.

1.) Learn to say “No” and be O.K. with it. Burnout happens when we are overcommitted. Say no to regain time and margin in your schedule.

2.) Go fly a kite. Or play cards. Nap. Read. Go for a job. The point is: find a hobby that you want to do just because it is enjoyable and then make time to do that as often as possible.

3.) Talk about it. Talk about burnout. Talk about your fear. Name it. Find a trusted person to confide it. Don’t let it consume you. If the way to overcome it is to talk about burnout, talk about it to anyone who will listen.

What advice would you give someone struggling with burnout? Leave a comment below!

One Thing

One of the things I give every coaching client is the “High-Performance Scorecard.” It’s a postcard-sized printout designed to be carried with them in their day-planner or another medium that works for them.

It reinforces many of the mental habits we talk about, keeps them focused on their goals, and gives them “check-in” techniques when they are feeling distracted.

But there’s also one focus item on there that says, “What’s one thing I did today to pursue my goals: ______________________”

After spending hours designing this scorecard, I think this is one of the most important questions on there.

Why?

Because, as a High-Performer training other high-performers, here’s what I’ve learned: we have trouble acknowledging the day-in-day-out habits of success.

I have big dreams. I write them down, track them, andmeticulously refine them to be perfect.

But if I’m honest, some days (more than I care to admit) I think “But what did I really do to get closer to my goals?”

In the day-in-day-out grind of the entrepreneurial life, I often feel like I don’t do things of consequence.

Writing a blog is a part of my business, nothing heroic.

Same with coaching a client.

And Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and email.

Networking is hard but necessary, so nothing special there.

And that’s precisely my problem. When I can convince myself that nothing matters then nothing ends up mattering.

So I put that question in the scorecard to remind my clients that what you do absolutely matters, 100% of the time.

Because what’s the alternative? Not writing the blog post? Now that would be a tragedy.

Not coaching, not engaging in social media, and not networking would mean the end to my business.

So in reality, it’s those little things that do matter. It’s the little things that add up to big wins. Big wins lead to success.

Success is what my clients pay me for.

Never Knock Progress

One of the mindsets I’ve had to change in myself, and one I work hard on my clients with, is that of the daily routine. In the scorecard, it’s a built-in process. At the end of every day, you acknowledge a success, however seemingly small or insignificant, and champion the work done.

And no matter how small a victory, I tell them, “It’s progress, and we never knock progress.”

It’s a great way to combat fatigue, discouragement, and frustration. By remembering the one thing we did today, we’re encouraged to do one more thing tomorrow.

Day after day.

Week after week.

Month after month.

Year after year.

Until all of a sudden, we realize that we’ve made our own version of success.

That’s why we celebrate one thing.

That’s why we never knock progress.


What’s one thing you would tell someone facing discouragement or disillusionment in chasing their dream?

 

Want to receive my Mental Performance Scorecard? For a limited time, I’ve giving it away to all email newsletter subscribers (in addition to my 5-day ecourse on productivity). Just sign up and you’ll receive it in the next newsletter!

LeaderQuest Podcast – Episode 9

How do you begin with the end in mind?

By being clear on where you want to end up in life.

Think of a journey, you’d never just get in your car with a half a tank of gas and randomly drive, hoping to end up somewhere fun. Instead, you’d know where you want to end up, fill up the gas tank, and plug the destination into your GPS. With the plan, you know how to succeed.

That’s what we’re talking about this week. Join Justin and Elise as they talk about how to create the life plan and vision of living life on purpose.

Connect with Justin

As always, thank you for listening! I really appreciate it.
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