Once upon a time a company failed to develop a clear, positive corporate culture or appreciate its employees. The company had no leadership, vision or level of ethics. Therefore, the employees had no sense of direction, belonging or dedication.
The lack of culture started a domino effect of disgruntled employees who were not working together, were not thinking creatively or servicing their clients. The employees did not care about product quality or improving performance. This led to employee and client turnover, poor product quality and the company’s demise.
This story demonstrates that a most crucial element of a successful company is corporate culture. The culture creates the environment that defines the company’s shared values, attitudes and goals. It sets the groundwork for how employees are treated, how they feel about the company, how clients are serviced, how innovation and creative thinking are fostered and how quality products are made.
A company’s culture begins with the leadership. Leadership defines the company. Leaders must set the vision and be the role models that employees fully respect and support.
Over the past 20 years, I have found surprising inspiration from the American cowboy—a unique symbol for identifying qualities that I want for my companies and myself. Born on the East Coast, I discovered cowboy ethics by horseback riding with cowboys and ranchers in Arizona. I found these individuals to have a moral compass that was accurate and true. They have a simple philosophy of honesty, trust and loyalty. Though cowboy life has changed, cowboys still live by a code that provides guiding principles that can create successful leaders.
The similarity between the management and leadership skills of the cowboy and the corporate manager are uncanny. Cowboys need leadership skills to manage large groups of diverse individuals to drive cattle and manage vast ranches. They need to motivate staff, and manage fear and crisis. They need to create an environment of courage, cohesiveness and shared goals among their ranch hands. Most important, they need to accomplish this through hard honest work, integrity, creativity and a rigid set of solid principles. Leadership, motivation, courage and cohesiveness are the same goals that today’s corporate leaders must exhibit.
The following are a few cowboy qualities that can be used to define leadership for 21st century companies.
Integrity – “It ain’t where, it’s how you live.”
The leaders of a company must live life with integrity, do the right thing, uphold the truth, admit and accept mistakes, and consider what the cowboy in the white hat would do.
Integrity ensures that clients are being treated with complete transparency, and that an individual’s word and a handshake are as good as a written contract.
Pursuit - “Don’t go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path…and create a new trail.”
I recently read that one of the most overlooked aspects of leadership is the need for pursuit. Great leaders and their companies are never satisfied with traditional practice, static thinking, conventional wisdom or common performance. In fact, the best companies are simply uncomfortable with anything that embraces the status quo.
"Though cowboy life has changed, cowboys still live by a code that provides guiding principles that can create successful leaders."
Pursuit leads to attainment. What you pursue will determine the trails you travel, and ultimately, what you do or don’t achieve. Having a mindset focused on pursuit is so critical to successful companies that lacking this one quality can sentence a company to mediocrity. If you want a great company, create a company dedicated to pursuit.
Courage – “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”
Courage allows companies to evolve, change and innovate in the pursuit of perfection. To cultivate courage, we need to reward risk-taking individuals who look for new and innovative ways to accomplish traditional tasks.
If we punish people who have the courage to be agents of change, to embrace new ideas and take on new challenges, we undermine the essence of courage we want to instill in the organization.
I never punish a person for trying; it is the not trying that I find discouraging. An executive I know turned down a new-business opportunity and the incremental revenue that would come with it because he was unwilling to figure out how to operationalize the new activity. This is a foreign concept to me. Without courage to change, the company faces apathy and even obsolescence.
Leadership – “When your out ahead and leading the herd, it’s a good idea to stop, look back and make sure the herd is still with you.”
The company’s leadership defines the culture. A lousy place to work drives away high performers. A great place to work attracts and retains the very best.
Leadership’s every action—or inaction—sends cultural messages. How leaders dress sends signals about how formal the workplace is. The people that leaders talk and listen to reflect who and what is important. How leaders treat mistakes (learning experience vs. failure) sends signals about risk-taking.
Successful leaders are profoundly sensitive to how their decisions affect the staff and the signal that a decision sends. If you are attempting to build an organization that “employees love,” then all decisions should aim to build an irrevocable bond of trust with the staff.
Character – “A cowboy never betrays a trust.”
Loyalty, respect, self-discipline: These traits cascade down through the organization and reflect the character of its leadership. Don’t underestimate the power of character.
In the words of Bulldog Drummed CEO Shawn Apr, corporate culture and the company’s people matter more than machinery, products or real estate. People invent and build. People support and serve clients. People either create or undermine value, cultivate or kill relationships, drive or reduce success. There is no comparison to being in the hearts and hands of energized, informed and motivated people.
The morals that guided the American cowboy are as relevant today as they were over 100 years ago. They provide a blueprint for the qualities and characteristics that we want in today’s leaders and companies.
So, for a great corporate culture, cowboy up!
Paul Kramer is the President of Hyper Marketing Inc. Mr. Kramer became President of Hyper Marketing in January 2012 after the merger of digital marketing company SolutionSet MediaWhiz Partnership and D.L. Ryan Cos., the largest independent promotion and shopper marketing firm in the U.S.—of which he was President and COO. At Hyper Marketing, now the largest independent marketing services network in the U.S., Paul works closely with the CEO, and guides all aspects of business strategy and development, mergers and acquisitions, human resources and finance.