Leadership Is Our Best Investment

On every team, there are only two types of members: culture builders and culture killers. Who’s who on your team as we head into a tumultuous 2018?

January 4, 2018

I believe it’s impossible to be “culture-neutral” when you’re a member of an organization, a department staff, an athletic squad, a family, a community, even a choir or a band. Any behavior or performance that doesn’t contribute positively to the pursuit of a team’s goals compromises its functionality and, consequently, its ability to achieve those goals. So every team members falls into one of two camps: culture builder or culture killer. As a college administrator, I never hired anyone who didn’t bring the ability to inspire and challenge me—and our entire staff—to a higher performance standard. For exactly the same reason, as a bandleader I’ve never hired a musician who wasn’t a better player than me. In my personal life, I tend to spend most of my “me time” hanging with family and friends who bring positive, constructive vibes to the table.

To be honest, sometimes I feel like surrounding myself with culture builders (and avoiding culture killers) is a selfish strategy. Builders lift me up. Even more gratifying, I know that our collaboration will lift whatever team we’re on.

Recently, I had the good fortune to listen to author Erik Therwanger deliver a powerful coaching session on “The Leadership Connection.” Erik’s story is a moving one, and his message is undeniably potent. The thought he posed again and again was a compelling one: “Imagine what it would feel like to come to work every day to an organization whose members all think of themselves as, and act as, leaders.”

As Erik described what he believes are the “elite purposes” of a leader and discussed ways to develop a unifying culture, it dawned on me that to be a culture builder is to be, think, dream and act like a leader. It’s about taking initiative and being unwavering in one’s positive and constructive influence on her organization’s attitude, excellence and outcomes.

It seems to me that even team members who prefer to think of themselves as “followers” can demonstrate the culture-building qualities and characteristics of leaders. In fact, the best ones do!

So as we all launch a new year together in the important work of supporting our colleges and universities with sound marketing and recruitment practices, my hope and encouragement for you is this: invest whatever it takes to inspire, equip and empower yourself and your teammates to become better leaders in 2018. In a disrupted world that hasn’t felt this uncertain for as long as I can remember, we need each other more than ever. Let’s commit to doing some serious culture building in the year ahead.

Happy New Year, my friends!

Eric Sickler has helped the nation's college and universities clarify and more fully engage their brands for more than three decades. You can reach him at The Thorburn Group, a Stamats company.​


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