Cias Ferreira is an organisational architect who regularly facilitates companies in future-fit design. He has been with international consultancy Xpand since 2015 and heads up the Xpand SA office. He is passionate about partnering with organisations and executives in self, team and organisational training and coaching.
There’s a lot of of talk these days about ‘designing your company culture’. More and more, companies want to define those innate qualities that drive their mission forward. Key to this journey is identifying the core, critical values that undergird your culture and river-bank your organisation’s activities. Too often though, in the effort to ‘keep up’ with the 21st century pace, leaders brush over this exercise too quickly, and skip the critical steps to transform these written values into lived-out reality.
Without courage, trust and appreciation in your relationships, you will never transplant your company values from the page, into the hearts of your people. Here is a look at these three attributes and how you can leverage them to grow your organisation’s positive impact on society.
In the western world we tend to think of courage as a state of front-footed brazenry. Someone who is courageous is classically associated with being emotionally unaffected by the gale force winds of crisis. The dictionary defines courage as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.” A more honest definition of courage would make space for fear and doubt, and acknowledge the power of vulnerability when facing uncertainty or emotional risk. Courage is not necessarily having all the answers, but knowing when to admit one’s limitations and ask for help. It takes guts to ‘own that mistake’, to ask questions before giving opinions, or to put your weak foot forward.
As you lean into the discomfort of vulnerability, you allow others to do the same, which creates a safe and honest environment for creativity and inspired collaborations to flourish. Courage, however, is not just “accepting oneself as one is,” says Romano Guardini. It’s also “choosing to face life’s beautiful and painful challenges with a quiet firmness.” We cannot resign ourselves to these natural limitations, unwilling to even stick our foot out the door. As leaders we also need to apply bravery and tenacity to our situations, and face our proverbial cliff edges with daring pluck. In essence, we need both – stories of victory and defeat, an awareness of our own limitations and an awareness of God’s unlimited grace that can get us doing the seemingly impossible.
There is nothing more impactful on people, their work and their performance, than trust. “One of a leader’s most critical responsibilities is fostering an environment of trust. That’s because workplaces run on trust,” writes Abbey Lewis in a recent Harvard article. Before trust can flourish outwardly, it needs to be cultivated internally. As leaders, we need to be asking ourselves, “Am I trustworthy in my speech? My relationships? The way I steward God-entrusted resources?” Furthermore, do I trust others, and at what point do I extend that trust?
Psychologists would argue that trust is an earned commodity – conditional to one’s track record of performance and behaviour. I believed this for many years, until I made a personal study of the topic in the Bible – I was shocked by how much trust Jesus extended to the disciples without them ever ‘proving’ themselves. You may argue that His case is different because as God He knows “the end from the beginning” (Isa 46:10), but while on earth He lived a fully human life – subject to the same limitations and human frailties, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). You and I have to learn to follow His example, and extend trust to others – because above others, we trust Him. If you only trust someone as long as they constantly perform according to your expectations, they will always feel they have to prove themselves. And you may never arrive at completely trusting anyone because of all the terms and conditions that stand in the way.
Through the Trinity (God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), we see the ultimate picture of trust as an act of self-giving love that is freely and generously given, based on an intrinsic state of love and dignity. From the beginning, each divine person has inherently trusted and deferred to the other, irrespective of performance. Likewise, if we can strive to trust at the beginning of a new relationship, people will inevitably feel safe enough to be themselves, to grow and to risk braver things together.
When you truly appreciate someone, you can see their unique treasures and talents – and can even start drawing those out if they are unaware of it themselves. Of course, to be able to celebrate others’ gifting and achievements, you first need to be comfortable in your own skin.
This can extend beyond a company’s own culture, to the wider industry as well. If the environment doesn’t encourage you to trust others, or to be yourself – you will always view your competition with suspicion and guarded apprehension. If you can learn to appreciate the strengths and talents that fellow industry leaders bring to the table, however, you can shift the narrative from one of cut throat competition to healthy collaboration.
It’s not necessarily easy to take this affirmative approach, especially when this choice is unreciprocated. People will inevitably disappoint or hurt you, and colleagues may misconstrue your good intentions. But the road of grace and forgiveness is always the better option – in fact, the only one that can pave courage, trust and appreciation into your company culture.
Appreciation builds psychological safety, which Amy Edmondson defines as “the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes”. Psychological safety is therefore essential for people to stretch beyond their comfort zones, without the fear of embarrassment or failure. It should not, however, come at the expense of excellence. As leaders, our job is to continually raise the bar, but to also lay the groundwork that enables our people to reach higher.
Going forward, we need to ask ourselves, “How am I doing in these three areas? As a leader, am I courageously vulnerable? Do I trust others without hooks? Do I ever tell my colleagues that I appreciate them?”
To embed these values deeper will require a deliberate effort on our part, because habits that express values take 36 repetitions to move from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence within a company. For a virtue to become a habit in our lives, we will have to intentionally exercise that value. Consider focusing on one virtue for a year. Find a creative way to express gratitude and appreciation, for example, through writing notes or letters. Each month choose a team member you want to thank for specific reasons, and take the time to pen down those reasons. In time, that aspired value will become a reflexive outworking of your inner, changed nature.
Like most good things, healthy company cultures take time to grow. People need time to think about and implement the values that underpin the culture. Yet as we lean into the process, patiently and whole-heartedly, we will slowly nurture the kind of Christ-filled cultures that Jesus intended for our businesses. It starts with us first, as we dare to be vulnerable and authentic, and willing to walk out our vision with humility and courage.