Are you building a Culture of Leadership?


Leadership often seems to be an intangible thing…a soft skill that makes a huge difference but is difficult to teach. This mystery around leadership is likely made worse because of the sheer volume of information out there – a quick search on Amazon lists 100,000+ books on leadership and most of them have a different spin and advice.

My recommendation is to start with a simple approach – I firmly believe the businesses that will succeed over time are the ones who consciously develop a culture of leadership within all levels of the business. But what would a culture of leadership within a business look like?  How do you go about consciously creating such a thing?

What is a leader?

Leaders and leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. One of the most well known and respected authors on this topic – the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey posited that ‘leadership is a choice, not a position’.  Maybe the best way to define a leader is to look at the characteristics or behaviors of leaders at all levels.

In their book ‘The Leadership Challenge’, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner found in their worldwide study more than 50% of respondents selected the following characteristics people would willingly follow:

*Note – these results have been consistent since they first did this study back in 1987.

  • Honest
  • Forward looking
  • Competent
  • Inspiring

Based on my own experiences – I would also include the following:

  • Passion
  • Courage
  • Humility
  • Sense of Humor

If you gave it some thought, your list might be slightly different, but I’m willing to bet that we’re at least in the same ballpark on most of them. And since these are behavioral characteristics, it’s not just enough to appreciate these traits – you (and your team) have to be consistently demonstrating them.

Gut check time – do these qualities (or your list) consistently describe you?  Would others use these qualities to describe you?

What’s the opposite of leadership?

If you buy into Covey’s idea that leadership is a choice, not a position, then what are people choosing if they’re not choosing to step up as a leader?  One way to look at it is they are choosing to be a victim (or more precisely to exhibit victim behaviors). What are the traits you associate with someone who acts like a victim?

From my experience victims don’t take accountability or responsibility – it’s always not their fault. They tend to point fingers and place blame on anyone and everyone else. They are negative, reactive and always looking for a short cut and looking to others to explicitly tell them what to do. They are comfortable ignoring or denying challenges or things they don’t want to deal with.

In their book “The Oz Principle”, authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman introduce a simple and powerful idea – the Line of Accountability. This thin line represents accountability and responsibility…a culture of leadership. And because Leadership is a choice, you can either choose to be above the line – acting as a leader…or below the line acting as a victim.

L-V-accountability line2

The power of this simple tool and model is in it’s simplicity. It can be very difficult to call people out their behavior (“Hey Jim – you were really slacking off with your work last week on the Smith account weren’t you.”).  However…if you have the right people on your team and they all want to win for the team – then they will immediately see the value and validity of The Accountability Line – and the importance of being above the line as often as possible.

The reality is that we are all going to have days or moments where we slip and we’ll be ‘below the line’ – it’s impossible to be focused, positive, pro-active and on top of things all the time, but if we can recognize when we’re having a bad day…or if we can help others recognize the wrong kind of behavior then it’s easier to correct.  (“Hey Jim – do you think you were below the line last week with the Smith account?”).

Culture of Leadership

In his bestselling book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, Patrick Lencioni calls out the importance of trust, productive conflict and the ability of a team to hold each other accountable. If you’re building a true culture of leadership, then the team will expect and appreciate that others (team mates and their manager) will call them out when they are ‘below the line’.

Of course it’s likely you have people on your team right now who absolutely will not want to be held accountable in that way (a victim behavior). If that’s the case you will need to help them understand that this is a new reality for how the team / company is going to operate – ideally they’ll get on board and modify their behavior. Maybe they’ll opt out on their own and choose to go elsewhere…but if one of those 2 things doesn’t happen fairly quickly then you must ask them to leave – otherwise your behavior is ‘below the line’ for not holding others accountable.

What do you think? Is this a model that would work in your business? Do you already have a team that lives up to this kind of behavior? What would it mean if they did? We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

Thanks to my friend Robert Knowles for the inspiration on this post.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

2 thoughts on “Are you building a Culture of Leadership?”

  1. Thanks for the reminder to aim to be above the line! That is a simple reminder of the actions that lift up my leadership to the levels where I can achieve the success that I desire.

  2. Kristie says:

    One of the best articles I’ve read. Alwasy striving for better! Thanks for alwasy making us better!

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