Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

During our time in grad school, the other Strengths Doctors partners and I had an opportunity to learn from some of the brightest scientists and researchers in the world.

It was there, from Dr. Sang Lee, that I first heard this quote:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I’ve experienced this idea firsthand, and I’m certain you have as well.

How many times have you seen a “great idea” for your organization get presented — and then somehow, as time passes, it mysteriously gets buried. When the dust settles, you reflect back on the process only to realize… you have NO idea how it died!

Short answer: the culture killed it.

We’ve talked before about how to stop sucking and some other fundamental elements of talent theory. Well, the ideas of natural talent can also be extrapolated to groups of people, and even further out to organizations as a whole.

And this is where “talent” connects with “culture.”

Innate talent is actually where much of a company’s original culture comes from. Where the natural proclivity of the leadership lies, therein you will find the ethos that trickles down and over time becomes ingrained into the very fabric of that culture.

Apple, Inc. is innovative, tight-lipped, opinionated, and has a high appreciation for aesthetics — much like Mr. Steve Jobs.

The Virgin Group is daring, eclectic, experimental, and adventurous — much like its founder, Sir Richard Branson.

These things are not coincidences.

To be sure, leaders change and things shift. But the notion of natural talent can give us some great insight into what’s driving the culture of our organization. It’s even more noticeable in small organizations.

If culture is going to eat your strategy for breakfast, this is a pretty important thing to pay attention to.

The key is this: learn the natural “bend” of your company by studying the leadership’s talents. Then leverage this knowledge to help you position and present your strategies. Speak their language. Instead of fighting the culture, you’ll be going with the current.

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Rising Above Mediocrity: 33 Tips to Self

Mediocrity irritates me! (Reference above picture.) And I’ve always believed that you should “let an irritation become an inspiration, and then make a difference.” These are my 33 tips to Rise Above Mediocrity:

  1. Have Faith and Hope.
  2. Know your innate strengths and talents and work from them.
  3. Discipline is freedom.
  4. Find out what you are good at… and work really hard at that.
  5. You are responsible for your own experience.
  6. Those who resist change inhibit growth.
  7. Compliment and give praise to others on a regular basis.
  8. Choose to be happy.
  9. In life, development follows demand.
  10. If it’s worth doing, do it right.
  11. Meet other people’s needs and yours will be met.
  12. Stress happens when the mind resists what is.
  13. Consistently ask yourself to do more than you are comfortable with.
  14. The best way to get approval is not to need it.
  15. Be coachable.
  16. The best thing that you can do for the poor is to not be one of them.
  17. Passion Pays!
  18. Excellence develops daily, not in a day.
  19. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
  20. Put the hours in.
  21. Who you are is who you attract.
  22. It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.
  23. View family as a blessing, not a responsibility.
  24. Procrastination murders your dreams.
  25. Activity is not necessarily accomplishment.
  26. Don’t spend; invest.
  27. Recharge before you discharge.
  28. Storms are not optional, faith is.
  29. We are all different; capitalize on the differences.
  30. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.
  31. Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching.
  32. People are led to have a “Sense of Entitlement” because they falsely believe they are owed something.
  33. Get curious about learning.
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The Treasure Of Talent

There is something uniquely intriguing about focusing on what’s right with people vs. uncovering their weaknesses.

When we discover our talents and give them a name, it just “feels right.” There is just something about the concept of talents and strengths that resonates. It is as if our innate intelligence reacts to this re-discovery of what has been inside of us all along with excitement and joy, like we can finally say, “Yes! This is who I was created to be.”

Naming and understanding our greatest talents sets us free to develop them and begin to live through them. Living through our top talent themes allows us to develop them into strengths and it gives us permission to accept our areas of lesser talent as a reality and either discard them or manage them. It gives us an opportunity to stop trying to be who we are not and concentrate on the treasure of our talent.

If you have not yet named your talents and discovered your strengths, we recommend Strengths Finder 2.0 from Gallup Press, available on the Resources page.)

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Creating a Culture of Engagement

Years ago I heard a story about Tom Watson, the founder of IBM. Asked to what he attributed the phenomenal success of IBM, his response went like this:

IBM is what it is today for three special reasons. The first reason is that, at the very beginning, I had a very clear picture of what the company would look like when it was finally done. You might say that I had a model in my mind of what it would look like when the dream-my vision was in place.

The second reason was that once I had that picture, I then asked myself how a company which looked like that would have to act. I then created a picture of how IBM would act when it was finally done.

The third reason IBM has been so successful was that I realized that, unless we began to act that way from the very beginning, we would never get there.

In other words, I realized that for IBM to act like a great company long before it ever became one.

From the very outset, IBM was fashioned after the template of my vision. At the end of each day, we asked ourselves how well we did, discovered the disparity between where we were and where we wanted to be, and, at the start of the following day, set out to make up the difference.

Now, I realize that it has been close to a half century since Tom Watson spoke about the reasons for IBM’s success-the culture that he created, and that it is a different company today. It is still thriving today! However, based on personal conversations with current and past employees, even IBM may need to re-create its future as the future demands when it comes to employee engagement.

Overall, culture is the quality in a person or organization that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent — and engaged employees are simply happier and more passionate about what they do and how they perform, which translates directly into enhanced results for the whole company. Unfortunately, the most recent figures from The Gallup Organization state that at least two-thirds of the US population is not engaged on the job! We spend far too much time at work — 1/3 of our life — to hate what we do day in and day out. This is a disturbing fact in regards to the loss of personal satisfaction as well as lost workplace productivity.

By helping employees connect to their position and their purpose, leaders can create a culture of engagement.

What does it look like? Creating clarity of purpose within an organization is not merely about choosing the right statements to describe a company’s aim, mission, strategy, or values; it is about agreeing upon the holistic concepts that drive it. Clarity of purpose provides employees at every level of an organization with a common language, image of excellence, and what is important and what is not.

Essentially, clarity of purpose allows a company to lay down the building blocks of engagement… empowering its employees with a true sense of confidence, of belonging, and of making a difference.

How do you assess your company’s culture of engagement?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does each team member know what she is expected to do and have everything she needs to do it well?
  • Does each team member feel like his manager really knows him as a person and takes an interest in his life?
  • Do team members feel like they can make a difference in their company, and that their company makes a difference in them (helps them grow)?

If you answered no to any of these, you may have an opportunity to make your team more cohesive and engaged. Even IBM has that same opportunity.

Creating a culture of engagement impacts quantifiable business outcomes, including profitability, productivity, safety, customer loyalty, and employee turnover. It establishes a foundation for communication, hiring, training, promotion, decision making, and serves as a basis for accountability in an organization. All of these are requirements for the organization’s long-term success.

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Talent Strengthening vs. Weakness Fixing

Are you familiar with the famous Serenity Prayer adopted by many twelve-step programs?

It says,

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

This prayer describes the dilemma that we face when it comes down to the question: Should we focus on strengthening our innate talents or be fixing our unfortunate weaknesses? What I think is important here is to “Know the difference”!

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Good Leaders Don’t Do Everything

I see a lot of chatter around this general idea: “Leaders don’t command what they are unwilling to do themselves.”

I understand the sentiment, but when even slightly misinterpreted this mentality does more harm than good.

At its core this thought promotes the myth of the “well-rounded leader.” Problem is, nobody can do everything well.

This idea adheres to the same philosophy that demands executives spend two years in every department in the company on their climb “up.” I promise you — talented people do not need to spend two years in an area of weakness to appreciate the value of it. What they do need is to get enough exposure to able to speak intelligently about it and communicate that area’s importance, and then they need to be moved as quickly as possible to their area of strength. (If these paths don’t exist, then we need to create more ladders.)

The truth is, good leaders assign out a LOT of things they are unwilling to do themselves, because they know that another person can do certain things MUCH better than they can.

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How To Stop Sucking

This might seem like common sense: the amount of talent an individual has is inversely proportional to the amount of preparation they need to create something excellent in their particular field.

Or more simply put, the more natural ability you have to play the piano, the less you have to practice to get good. Like I said; pretty common sense. Continue reading

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Questions Are The New Answers

Everyone loves answers. Believe me, I love that feeling of brilliant clarity I get when something “dawns on me” as much as the next person.

But as a larger culture, I wonder if we’ve become answer-obsessed. Continue reading

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Choices Will Terminate You

This morning, one of my regular check-in sites,, posted a link for a movie promo partnership they initiated with They were giving away free digital copies of Terminator: Salvation. I’d never gotten a chance to see the movie, and I’m always curious about new streaming movie technology, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Continue reading

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Org Fit Has Nothing To Do With Your Org

Last week I had coffee with a new friend who told me a bit of her story. When she got hired with a previous company, she was a perfect fit — her manager loved her, she was the greatest invention since direct deposit (seriously, is there anything better!?), she could do no wrong. All was well in the world. Then, one day, that manager leaves and a new one takes the place. Suddenly, my friend is a “terrible fit for the organization”… and on her way out. Continue reading

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