How Business Leaders Can Create A High-Performing Culture

Published in CEO Magazine, January 2014

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, we were given an opportunity to reflect on the personal impact we have on this world, the leadership choices we make, and the legacy in which we want to leave behind. The world has lost a great leader, a man who brought resiliency to life, and walked a style of leadership so authentically rooted in truth that it turned the darkest of government into a light of hope, inspiration, and love for all the world to see. In his autobiography Mandela wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”

Mandela understood that to create a high-performing culture, everyone within the culture must be respected and loved as a human being—equally. This is a man who after 27-years of being imprisoned for his belief in humanity, responded to those who created his life of confinement with empathy and forgiveness—a chosen path that created enough energy to lift him from the hands of persecution to the highest ranks of public authority as the first black president of his country. Energy so powerful that it created a light strong enough to transform one of the most oppressed areas of our world into an example of possibility.

Today, leaders throughout the world have an opportunity to learn from Mandela, and apply the same leadership practices that fueled the cultural transformation of South Africa. Leadership practices that transcend time, overcome political and religious restraint, and fuel businesses with the exact energy needed to create profitable results–all through the power of good.

  • Lead with positive intent: What is your intent when you show up to lead your business? Is it rooted in a “good for humanity” philosophy, or is there an essence of deceit, manipulation and disrespect for human beings? People are inspired to perform only when they feel genuinely respected and loved. Regardless of the words you speak or write, it’s the intent you choose that creates the outcome—choose carefully.
  • Show up without anger: The emotion of anger stalls performance and creates paralyzing fear—a recipe for disaster in business. The next time you feel your blood pressure on the rise, stop and ask yourself how you can exchange your anger for actions of respect for the people who choose to be part of your business.
  • Be transparent: Deceit and manipulation is alive anytime you choose not to deliver the whole story—be transparent. Spin it how you want, “They don’t need to know all the information to do their job. We don’t want to rock the boat and harm performance. They can’t handle the truth!” Here’s the deal, the truth always comes out sooner or later, and rebuilding a culture infected with deceit and manipulation is a hell of lot more costly than maintaining a culture that thrives on transparency and respect.
  • Communicate courageously: Stand up for what you believe is right, step forward to change what may be perceived as normal, but you know in your heart is wrong. Times have changed, and what was once perceived as business-as-usual-activity is now unacceptable. A core practice that drives high-performing cultures is having the courage to eliminate hurtful activity and step forward to create a new normal.
  • Be strong enough to face fear: We can’t talk about courage without addressing fear. In business fear is your worst enemy. Fear paralyzes people’s ability to do their best work. The responsibility of a leader is to become brilliant at naming and eliminating fear. If done right, naming fear allows you to get to the root of any issue and create a solution for how to move forward. Be bold. Trade in your pride for the willingness to name your fear and move your business forward.

Every leader has a defining moment, a moment of choice that defines his or her legacy. How will you choose? Will you hide when there’s an opportunity for courage? Or will you exercise leadership practices rooted in respect for humanity in order to create a high-performing business culture that is remembered not only by its financial results, but by how it changed our world?

Gina Soleil, is a speaker and acclaimed author of Fuel Your Business: How to energize people, ignite action and drive profit. She blogs and speaks about how to create a business where people are energized, feel good and are happy. Visit Gina Soleil and follow her on Twitter.

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