Company Culture

How a Culture of Leadership at ALL Levels Will Help Your Team Take Gold

How a Culture of Leadership at ALL Levels Will Help Your Team Take Gold

1980 Olympic Winter Games

Image credit: USA Hockey

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As a child in 1980, I heard Al Michaels count down the clock, “6, 5, 4”…and then in a chilling and dramatic tone say, “Do you believe in miracles!”

The U.S. Olympic hockey team had just accomplished the unbelievable: they defeated the Soviet Union team and went on to win the Olympic gold medal. It was indeed a miracle.This was a group of college kids from around the country, who previously had fiercely competed against each other and were about to compete again for spots in the NHL. By contrast, the Soviet team had many years of experience playing and even winning gold together. On this day in 1980, the U.S. team put their personal aspiration aside and united a nation that was much in need of a moment like this.

This sort of team effort can, and should, be applied to your business. But how do you inspire a group of people, like the US Olympic hockey team, to play for a bigger game and to think outside of their individual gain? It comes down to sharing a greater purpose and fostering “leadership at all levels.”

Leadership at all levels: the what and the why

Leadership at all levels is a paradigm, in which regardless of your title, tenure or compensation, you relate to your company as if “you own the joint.” That is, you generate ideas and make decisions from a place of ownership. This paradigm, which I learned while consulting at ThinkHuman, creates an environment around self-expression, self-organization, self-management and full accountability for results.

Evidence shows us that leadership at all levels not only wins gold medals, but it also creates stronger companies. Richard Feloni recently published an article that helps you understand why creating this environment should be one of your top priorities for 2016. In it, Feloni compares the weakness of a typical corporate structure to the resilience of structures that succeed in nature, such as the human body. In traditional corporate structures, employees operate out of compliance rather than self-management, meaning that they wait for management to generate direction and innovation. By contrast, the human body operates out of a self-managed model, and it is incredibly resilient and strong.

My experience working as an executive for a number of organizations and consulting with Fortune 500 companies has only confirmed these findings. These organizations all have the same goals: to drive, to thrive and to build towards something bigger. The ones that accomplish these goals are the ones with leadership at all levels.

Leadership at all levels: the how

As a leader, there are a few things you can do to foster this paradigm in your organization.

Create a higher purpose: This purpose should inspire people to play a game that is bigger than what is in front of them and bigger than their individual job descriptions or mandates.

In my experience, people are purpose-driven and choose to align with leaders who strive to make a difference. This is exactly what Herb Brooks was able to get the 1980 Olympic team to realize: they weren’t just playing for a gold medal, they were playing a game that could unite a nation when it desperately needed to be united.

In a previous role as VP of sales at a technology company, I directly witnessed the effects of creating and communicating a purpose. During the process of growing from startup to successful IPO, our purpose of “Connecting the world collaboratively in order to do better business” was instrumental in creating alignment and inspiration. We all really believed this, and it is what propelled us to success.

Trust yourself and your team: Step back to let your team step into their leadership.  As Pat Riley, the successful basketball coach and executive, once said: “A leader’s responsibility is to create an environment where people and their talents can flourish.

I saw this done successfully when consulting a company with thousands of employees. With their purpose and values in place, they created an infrastructure in which each department, location and division established its own culture teams that had the ability to implement change in their respective levels -- everything from collaboration to productivity increased. This is a great example of what it looks like to create responsibilities, put people in those seats and watch them do the right thing.

This concept can sound scary to some, but under a trusting leader, people will step up in ways that matter. Your team will do the right thing for you, the company and its clients, because people want to make a difference, create an amazing experience for clients, be innovative and above all, they want to leave behind a legacy.

Just like the coach of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team created an environment where his talent could flourish, leaders need to do the same. When you commit to leadership at all levels, people start to believe in miracles and take ownership over their results. That’s how your team can win its gold medal.