4 Executive Habits that Fuel Culture

Paul Berggren
4 min readOct 31, 2022

You can’t outsource culture — it begins or ends with you.

Photo by Jose Lebron on Unsplash

A healthy, vibrant team culture will spit out a negative or controlling leader. Even if the person does some damage, a healthy group can bounce back and look for a more like-minded person to lead.

I know a team that survived a leader who thought he had all the answers. He lasted less than a year because he tried to create an island of loyal subjects in a sea of collaboration. He didn’t understand the need for adults to be curious, or reward learning as the currency of their team culture. He was outnumbered and left to find a better fit for his leadership style. This leadership culture worked like anti-bodies protected the body from harm.

Where does this resilient, collaborative culture come from? Simon Sinek describes organizational culture as values + behavior. Performance is the result of the values and rewarded behavior, not the cause. It’s always a work in progress that needs your attention. At the core, it’s a learning culture tuned into adults — on purpose.

I see a refreshing example of this each year at the Mid-American Association of School Superintendents (MAASS) Crown sponsors each year. These executive leaders are CEOs of multi-million-dollar organizations in their communities. This is a unique gathering that targets the deeper issues that matter most to executive leaders below the surface.

Since culture matters deeply to these members, it’s always part of the conversation. I love hearing members lean into discussion topics, and give practical insights to my “video comment corner.”

This year, I heard 4 Executive Habits that put jet fuel the leadership culture of MAASS members:

  1. Executive leaders make the biggest impact as the lead learner.
  2. Listening and asking questions — especially hard ones — gets better results.
  3. Words don’t have meaning — people give words meaning, so choose carefully.
  4. A learning culture is in-side out, instruction cultures are out-side in.

Where does this resilient, collaborative culture come from? Simon Sinek describes organizational culture as values + behavior. Performance is the result of the values and rewarded behavior, not the cause. It’s always a work in progress that needs your attention. At the core, it’s a learning culture tuned into adults — on purpose.

None of these can be outsourced… they all require YOU! Each of these big ideas has a few supporting points that add some detail to the 4 Habits.

1. Executive leaders make the biggest impact as the lead learner.

  • Build learning into your work as a team, including meetings, to not get lost in process.
  • In education, supporting teachers as adult learners is everyone’s job, so they can learn with students and collaborate with families.
  • In business and non-profits, supporting customer facing employees is everyone’s job, so they can learn and collaborate on solutions with customers/clients.
  • Don’t solve all the problems — give your team time and authority to resolve issues so you can depend on them to lead.

2. Listening & asking hard questions gets better results.

  • Conflict is an opportunity to be curious, connect with people, and improve the situation.
  • A well-placed question, asked with humility, opens more doors than expert answers.
  • Coach ALL layers of leaders to stop, listen, and reflect to make intentional decisions.

3. Words don’t have meaning — people give words meaning, so choose carefully.

  • Be very clear about your values, purpose, and vision and repeat them often.
  • In your messaging, use the listener’s point of view to get the desired results.
  • Lead on your feet and own your mistakes… then correct them with help from others.

4. A learning culture is in-side out, instruction cultures are out-side in.

  • Focus on learning — the numbers will come. Learning gives numbers value to guide us.
  • Highlight learning from each other, especially WITH students, to make learning sticky.
  • Feed your key relationships regularly with a personal touch and celebration.

+ + +

Which of these 4 Habits would give you or a colleague a needed boost this week?

You can’t outsource culture or hope it happens. It takes someone like you PLUS your inner circle to build and sustain a healthy, resilient, learning culture. Each of these Big Ideas is worth exploring on their own, so watch for an on-going conversation about these 4 Executive Habits mixed in with future posts.

Life is a team sport. Help your team experience an adult learning culture, so they can pass it on!

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Paul Berggren

I help people listen and learn from each other. As President of Crown Global HR, I bring clarity to growing and hiring people.