Last week I spent time with my extended family, whom I love to death. But this visit was unlike any other. I took on a different “way of being” — a leader’s way of being —and in so doing, everybody benefited.
Family cultures are like business cultures: they have an amazing power to draw us in and “demand” behaviors that support the accepted “way of being.” Both family and business cultures, subtly and not so subtly, encourage us to tow the line — to think, act, behave, even dress according to spoken and unspoken norms.
Observe carefully, and you will see how you adapt to the various cultures you inhabit. You’re a different “cultural being” in the company of family than with co-workers, at a football game, in church, or at a bar. Each of these institutions has a definable culture behavioral rules particular to that culture.
So during this last visit with my relatives, I decided to be a student of my family — to create a healthy objective distance from which to observe and understand. This isn’t easy to do, but it’s critical. As we say in our book The Leadership Platform, the ability to detach and observe, with discernment but without judgment, is a fundamental leadership skill. It prevents us from being subject to the culture’s dictates — prevents us from being drawn into beliefs and behaviors simply because they are culturally encouraged. Instead, we see with a curious and objective eye — an eye that can envision healthy change.
I enjoyed this visit with my family — in observer mode —more than any visit in a long time. I was able to keep my balance and “be there” in new ways for the family. Ironically, I was more connected by staying detached. I was able to participate in the family culture in a more constructive way, because I understood the energy, dynamics, limitations, strengths, and dangers of the environment.
There’s a clear lesson here for all leaders.
YOUR PATH FORWARD: Try an entire day in observation mode in your business:
- How do people talk to one another?
- What are the spoken and unspoken norms?
- How does your culture create, sublimate and deal with conflict?
- How welcomed, appreciated, supported, and connected do you think people feel?
- What are the positives about your culture that help sustain it?
- Which cultural norms challenge the organization’s adaptability and success?
- Now that you have observed all this, what needs changing?
- How will you, as a leader, influence healthy change?