Have you ever had a manager or a sports coach who you looked up to and respected ?
If so, cast your mind back and think about how much you wanted to impress them and how good it felt to win their trust and approval.
Did they have special powers or the kind of charisma which draws people to them ?
This is the question I asked myself early in my career, when I was working at a bank and I had a manager who I highly respected.
Well, I'm pretty certain that there weren’t any special powers involved and looking back now he wasn’t blessed with any more charisma than the average person, but yet, why did I try so hard to impress him?
As I reflect, here’s my answer to that question:
- Firstly, I was inspired by his success in climbing the corporate ladder and I aspired to be in his position one day (so I thought)
- He instilled self-belief in his team by being collaborative and asking for our opinion on matters. This was very empowering for me and others.
- He was firm and demanded results but always fair
- I knew where I stood with him. There was no second guessing.
- Most importantly, I knew he had my back and he truly cared about his team. This is extremely rare in many organisations!
Good cultures start with great leadership and leadership influences from the top down. This manager’s leadership style had set the foundations for our amazing culture.
Yes, inside a bank!
In Ben Horowitz’s book -
The Hard Things About Hard Things – Building a business when there are no easy answers.
He said -
“The best work cultures are actually cults”
Ben Horowitz is spot on!
I'm not suggesting that your staff should be walking around in hemp robes, playing drums in your foyer or anything weird like that, but there is this powerful unity which exists in good work cultures and it's best described as cult-like.
So, how do you create a cult-like culture?
What I have learnt from building companies from scratch and leading large teams is that you don’t achieve this by setting out to motivate your staff or by walking around full of ego or with the most extravagant office chair with your initials engraved in gold and resembling Donald Trump’s presidential furniture collection.
You DO achieve it by doing everything that my old manager did for me, but I also want to add one more technique to this which was a game changer for me and was so powerful that it helped me build a good following and cult-like cultures in all my companies.
My game changer technique was –
Huh! Story telling?
This is a 5-step process which I was doing intuitively without giving it too much thought. I didn’t sit down and strategize to create this process so I can win people over. It was partly through trial and error but mostly intuition and it’s only as I reflect back to write this article that I’ve just realised that it was actually a process.
Tell your story. Talk about your background, your struggles and your wins. We all have them so it’s important that you dig deep and find your own story. Vulnerability is very powerful when used in the right way and when it’s authentic
What is the team striving to achieve? Why it’s important and the impact it will make.
- The Plan
What work must we do right now to help you get closer to that vision? You need to have a long term strategy but I always like working in short intervals of time (ie, next 3-6 months).
- What’s in it for them?
What will they get out of helping you reach this vision? Why should they dedicate the next few years of their life to helping you achieve this vision? A weekly pay check won’t cut it!
- What does success look like?
This is a picture in their mind on what victory or success looks like. Don’t forget to celebrate the wins and milestones along the way.
Note: this is not a formal process which needs to be documented or done in PowerPoint or should I say death by PowerPoint!
This is an informal chat in a group setting or 1:1 over coffee depending on the size of your team and continuously reinforced over time.
Story telling when it’s backed by passion and truth can generate deep feelings in people which ignites in them the same passion that you have and I have found it is the best way to influence people and unify your team.
Bonus tip –
If you want to build a cult-like culture, you must first find out what each individual team member wants.
What is the movie which is playing in their head ?
We all have different aspirations and dreams. As a leader it’s your job to be the guide, the coach and the mentor to help each person realise their own dreams whilst contributing to the company vision.