WISDOM LEADING: The Conversation

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Culture Rules

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Head due north from Verona, Italy on the A22 Autostrada (think the Italian version of Germany's famous Autobahn) toward the Italian Alps and you'll soon pass through countryside so idyllic you'll think you've been transported to the Sound of Music soundstage. It's all there but Julie Andrews - villages perched on beautiful, green hillsides backed by rugged, snow capped mountains and every house with the ubiquitous flower boxes in every window. You know what else? The infrastructure - roads, bridges, signs - is suddenly pristine also, somehow unlike most of the rest of Italy. Something is different here in South Tyrol. History informs that this region has been fought over since before World War I, and that each subsequent treaty has brought it closer to Italian rule, despite a large predominance of the population that identifies itself with Austria, Italy's neighbor to the north. The last treaty concerning governance was signed over 40 years ago, yet generations of these Italians still don't consider Italian their native language or identity. Roads and bridges look so good here because the Italian government allows this region to keep up to 90% of its tax revenues in an attempt appease the region's inhabitants. Even road signs come in two languages, German and Italian. The lesson for leaders? Culture endures, and trumps almost everything else. Culture is defined as a society's traditional ways of thinking, feeling and reacting to resolve its issues over time. Experience tells us that culture outlives leaders, their pet initiatives, and in this case, even national boundaries. Yet it is seldom effectively addressed through conflict, appeasement, or indifference. Culture is always a factor in leading change, and can only be bridged through respect, understanding and one thing more - clarity to all parties of how a new culture benefits. Leaving culture unaddressed is often a fatal flaw in failed change efforts. Are you building road signs in two languages, or finding ways to bridges differences through understanding?

Head due north from Verona, Italy on the A22 Autostrada (think the Italian version of Germany's famous Autobahn) toward the Italian Alps and you'll soon pass through countryside so idyllic you'll think you've been transported to the Sound of Music soundstage. It's all there but Julie Andrews - villages perched on beautiful, green hillsides backed by rugged, snow capped mountains and every house with the ubiquitous flower boxes in every window. You know what else? The infrastructure - roads, bridges, signs - is suddenly pristine also, somehow unlike most of the rest of Italy. Something is different here in South Tyrol.

History informs that this region has been fought over since before World War I, and that each subsequent treaty has brought it closer to Italian rule, despite a large predominance of the population that identifies itself with Austria, Italy's neighbor to the north. The last treaty concerning governance was signed over 40 years ago, yet generations of these Italians still don't consider Italian their native language or identity. Roads and bridges look so good here because the Italian government allows this region to keep up to 90% of its tax revenues in an attempt appease the region's inhabitants. Even road signs come in two languages, German and Italian.

The lesson for leaders? Culture endures, and trumps almost everything else. Culture is defined as a society's traditional ways of thinking, feeling and reacting to resolve its issues over time. Experience tells us that culture outlives leaders, their pet initiatives, and in this case, even national boundaries. Yet it is seldom effectively addressed through conflict, appeasement, or indifference.

Culture is always a factor in leading change, and can only be bridged through respect, understanding and one thing more - clarity to all parties of how a new culture benefits. Leaving culture unaddressed is often a fatal flaw in failed change efforts.

Are you building road signs in two languages, or finding ways to bridges differences through understanding?

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Current Comments.
  1. Louise Gifford said:

    Foster - this is so true. I took over a difficult facility and it took me months to figure out why we couldn't make headway. The techs were experienced and cared about the patients and had been with this facility for a long time. The nurses were stabilizing and I thought we were on the right track. Finally, after multiple attempts to make headway and failing, I realized they were acting as caretakers rather than caregivers. The outcomes were poor d/t us trying to please our patients. Once I could talk to the team on their playing field, we have made great progress. Of course, I am teaching the The Five Dysfunctions of Team as well. Thank you for Culture - it will make it or break it. Louise


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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams