The 3 Most Helpful Leadership Traits Needed in the Quest for Culture

The 3 Most Helpful Leadership Traits Needed in the Quest for Culture

Concept of choice the correct way

“The enterprise that does not innovate ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present the decline will be fast.” – Peter Drucker

Some colleagues recently shared some great articles on innovation culture.  In particular, one specific piece, about building your innovation toolkit, resonated with us.

So, we will start with our premise. It involves a choice to be made. A choice between growth or comfort.

A strong culture is ALWAYS  the product of an active, engaged and high intensity senior leadership team.

When someone reaches out to us to discuss building or changing culture or looking to build their  capability on innovation, product and service design, project management or supply chain, the discussion can go something like this…

Senior Leader: Can we meet in the next week?

Us: Sure. How can we help?

Senior Leader: Well, you see, it’s our culture. It’s become problematic.

Us: What do you mean by problematic?

Senior Leader: You see, our culture needs to change. We don’t have strong and engaged employees. We are stuck. We need to be more like/less like/change ourselves to become/more of this/less of that…

Us: So, how do you think your culture became this way?

Senior Leader: It goes back as far as I can remember. Seem’s we’ve always been this way. Fighting fires and being reactive. Our senior team tells me that It’s just that our people aren’t the right ones. You know, we don’t have the right people on the bus.

Us:  Two questions, that will be helpful for us to think about. They may or may not be difficult to answer. May we ask them?

Senior Leader: Sure. Go ahead.

Us: First, who put the people on the bus?

Senior Leader: We’ll,…our leadership team. Hang on a sec…but you see, things have changed.

Us: Ok. We understand that some things have changed. Second question, who’s driving the bus?

Senior Leader: As I told you, you don’t seem to understand. Our business conditions have changed. It’s the economy. Our product has become a commodity. So we need to make some changes…

Us: Ok…How would you like us help you with those changes?

Senior Leader: I think we need a training.

Us: Sure. We can absolutely put a plan together for that. Just so you know, we always start with the leadership team first. It’s most helpful for the leadership team to be highly engaged in these matters. All our data shows that having the leadership engaged increases everyone’s odds of success. So, when can we meet with you and your extended team to get some alignment and help you build out your vision for the future?

Senior Leader: What, you mean right now?  It turns out that all the leadership team calendars are full. You see, our leaders have many important initiatives underway. They just couldn’t find time to attend. Besides, that’s not what we really need. These sessions would be just for the employees. You know, for those that aren’t on the executive team.  You see, we’ll already have an approved plan to make some structure changes. We’re planning to decrease staff  20% over the next 6 weeks in a series of reductions. After that, we’ll be on our way…

Us: On your way to what?

Senior Leader: Rightsizing the business. It will be tough, but it’s necessary. Remember, we talked about the economy, and how we are commoditized. We’ll make the changes in the organization, then, a couple of weeks after that, we can bring you in for the motivation talk. You know, talk about that innovation and growth stuff, and that will jump start our new initiatives.  Your motivational talk will start the change of our culture. Then we’ll be moving in the right direction.

If you’re smiling as you read this, the sad part is, this conversation happens much more often than you might think.


“Growth and comfort do not coexist.” – Ginny Rometty – President & CEO – IBM

Cultures just are. They are like a garden or farm field. Cultures can be hard work to maintain.

They can be covered in weeds by neglect, or fallow by an active decision not to do anything.  Yielding next to nothing.

Or, they can be plentiful. Yielding much for all involved.

In either case, to recover a culture or build a new one, the soil has to be worked. Work that takes commitment, time, and tremendous amounts of leadership energy. Cultures will result in one of two ways.

First, cultures can, and will, just evolve. Entirely on their own.  If left alone. 

County land with equestrian past

If left alone, the soil hardens and the weeds begin to show up.

Fear, reactive management, low executive intensity, and the worst of all, a scarcity mindset.

Scarcity, meaning that the entire leadership team AND organization as a whole becomes completely convinced there will never be enough of what is needed to get the work done.

They focus on the need to reduce costs and reduce staff. They’re stuck and think that’s all they can do.

The company, its employees and its culture make a decision, based on fear of the unknown,  and become a fallow field that doesn’t produce anything that matters.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in the middle of that fallow field. We end up looking around for what to do next that will help the organization.

The second method as to how cultures evolve, involves a significant amount of effort to maintain what you have or to rebuild it to something new and different.

The reality is, that what comes next, to develop that farm or garden field and it’s growth potential, has to make some noise. Some really loud noise.

Think about what happens with that fallow field in farm country. Picture yourself standing in that field looking around.  It’s quiet, then off in the distance, you hear noise. Low and slow at first. Then some squeaks and creaks of the field gate opening. You hear the tractor and the plow, getting louder.

Then, lots of noise. The noise of the machinery that will begin to plow up the field.


The plow hits the ground, breaking up the soil.  

You need something similar in the culture. Something to break up old ways of thinking, like reactive management styles.As the soil is worked, the ground turns over to get oxygen and fresh nutrients into the soil. Then, high quality seeds need to be planted.  Seeds that need to be cultivated to grow.

To have a good culture, it takes time. A lot of time.

It is hard. Very Hard.

It requires a lot of tending, weeding, and pruning.

Back to our premise.

A strong culture is always a product of an active, engaged and high intensity senior leadership team.

We talk about the quest for culture change, but few leaders may have the energy, drive, and desire to make it real for their teams.  Perhaps they just don’t know how to do it.

So, what do the leadership traits look like?

A leadership team makes it their personal mission to maintain or build up the culture they wish to see for their organization.

The mindset is rich with diversity, stimulus and abundance.

The leaders in a strong culture see opportunity around every corner.

They look for ways to grow the organization by net margin, offerings, or uniqueness compared to others in their respective industries.

They also encourage failure to happen. Early and often.

It truly is a quest. The hero’s journey.


The leaders that have a vision and strategy to create their culture have three common characteristics.

  1. They are high intensity – Meaning you can tell from their own personal energy level, they are ready for the quest and understand the mission and hard work ahead.
  2. They Manage by Walking Around (MBWA) – They are close to the work and their teams. They make a habit of walking around.  They talk to others getting a “real time” feel for how things are going.
  3. They take extreme ownership of the process and the outcome – They are highly engaged. They make a few well informed and very fast decisions. They drive to the mission for their organization. 

They will experiment, learn, and pivot as they need to be successful in that quest.

As they learn, alongside their teams, they become smarter.

Smarter in tending the soil. Smarter in figuring out quickly what is working and is not working.


In the end, they cultivate a culture that enables others.

A culture to drive engagement and provide abundance. T

The leaders focused with intent on developing an environment that becomes the key enabler to build long term growth.

A strong culture is always a product of an active, engaged and high intensity senior leadership team.

To learn more about how we can help you to understand and lead that change, reach out to us below.

At The Innovation Garage®…

We help organizations become more profitable. We build strategy. We build ideas and the capability of teams. We design products, services and supply chains. We guide leaders from startup to the Global Fortune 500 to intentionally self-disrupt their offerings and organizations. We provide world class education, tools and technology on how to craft business operating systems focused on long-term profitable growth.

Contact us at [email protected] on the web at, or check out our events pages to learn more or schedule a private session with us.

Culture Change, Innovation, Innovation Leadership, Leadership Traits, Strategy
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