The Three L’s to Change a Culture

I was recently reminded of some great advice given to me by Jay Desko  of The Center. He shared with me that the best way to pursue a successful leadership role in a new organization is to Listen, Learn then Lead . As an outsider coming into an organization, it may seem all too obvious, the changes which desperately need to be made. But hold your horses.


I once was asked to draft a report assessing the culture of an organization.


For weeks I interviewed the leadership team and held one-on-one conversations with employees. I sat in leadership team meetings and watched their interactions. This particular company had core values prominently displayed on the walls so I listen ed and looked for examples of these values in conversations and daily decisions.


Having completed the report, I turned it into the CEO with the harsh reality contained succinctly in just a few pages. No bias. No opinions. My report just lifted a mirror to the culture I witnessed first hand.


The report never saw the light of day.


Why wouldn’t the CEO utilize such objective and honest feedback about the culture of his business? Didn’t he intend to act upon my analysis? I think in order to answer, we need to go back to the advice given to me by Jay. Listen, Learn then Lead . Don’t change the order, the sequence is vital to success if we ever want to truly influence an organization. Many of us fall into the trap of skipping a step or rearranging their order but it won’t work. Why?


Behind Listen, Learn then Lead is an understanding that what drives action in an organization isn’t knowledge, but deeply held beliefs. To illustrate – we know the speed limit but fail to slow down until we believe that we might get caught. 


This imperfect leader simply handed over a  report with plenty of knowledge but I never learn ed the beliefs that drove the culture. I didn’t provide what was necessary to truly initiate change. So what’s the imperfect insight?

If I truly want to influence an organization, I must change what they believe, not what they know.

Are you lead ing based on what your people know? Are you lead ing at all? Real leaders change other’s beliefs, beliefs about the organization and beliefs about themselves. Beliefs like, “It’s never going to get better around here” or “I don’t think I can contribute”. 


Listen to your people, Learn what they believe, then Lead them to a THRIVING future!