How many interviewees have asked about your company’s culture? Culture has become an increasingly important (and greatly misunderstood) buzzword. We do our best as business owners to paint the picture of our daily corporate life as positively as possible. However, if culture is the shadow of leadership, are you casting an image for your employees to emulate or overshadowing their accomplishments. 

In a recent conversation with Lee Eisenstaedt and Dan Gershenson, we discussed what culture should look like from the top down and how much strength and resolve it takes to be that paradigm. 

Continue below to read our entire conversation!


How Many Leaders Are Strong Enough To Change Their Behaviors First?

By Trisha Daho, Lee Eisenstaedt & Dan Gershenson


We frequently hear leaders talk about culture change but the hard truth may be that in order for the culture to change, the leadership at the top of the organization may need to dedicate themselves to enacting significant changes in the self-awareness department too. Is that possible or a pipe dream? And if it is possible, what steps can a leader embrace to create powerful modifications in themselves, their people and their company culture?

To get closer to these answers, we continue our roundtable discussion with Lee Eisenstaedt of Leading With Courage Academy, Trisha Daho of Empowered and Dan Gershenson of Caliber Brand Strategy + Content Marketing

The Accountability Component
If leaders want change, it more often than not has to start with them looking in the mirror and gauging where they stand in relation to the goals they’ve set for the organization. While that may seem like common sense, the reality is that far too many leaders simply aren’t doing this, which leaves the door open for a massive credibility and integrity gap. 

Dan: Leaders have no problem talking about the concept of change in their company, their culture, their people and sometimes even themselves. But I’m curious, in both of your experiences, what’s holding them back from being more self-aware so that you can transform bold talk into meaningful action that defines a culture, the leadership, etc.?

Lee: You can be a leader who is all gung-ho about what you want to do when it comes to your own people without any accountability for yourself. We see it all the time, unfortunately, but at least that’s where we can help if leaders are open to that. Because if we’re going to go on a retreat with you, do a ton of prep work, do a comparative analysis with other companies and you don’t want to do anything to actually change, what’s the point?

The shocking part is when leaders have self-awareness, there are things they know they need to change and admit as much, yet won’t do the hard work of making change even if we help spell that out for them step-by-step. I have actually had leaders tell me that they can’t make a lot of decisions because they make really bad ones. OK, so if you make bad decisions, why do you have the role that you do? Because nobody else wanted the job? Why did the bad decisions come about and how do you think through these matters? We can reverse course and it’s absolutely fixable. But at some point, the leader can’t just talk about change or say they want to change. It takes action. We can’t just lose weight or want to travel somewhere we’ve never been simply by thinking about it! At some point, you must be defined by your actions – or lack thereof. 

And if it’s the latter and you don’t act, it becomes a bit of a “boy who cried wolf” situation. Nobody’s going to believe you after a while if all you’re giving is a bunch of speeches with nothing to suggest change starts with you.

Dan: We’ve all had some bad experiences in the networking realm and that happens to the best of us. Without giving names to protect the offenders, what was an example of how you faced someone with a lack of self-awareness so others may recognize what that looks like?


Turning Over The Rocks To See The Bugs
The work of making lasting change, whether you have a consultant helping you or not, will require you to look upon yourself to see the unflattering, the painful, the areas of weakness. This is such a moment of truth for leaders who can either choose to ignore it all or accept reality and address these problem areas because they aren’t going away anytime soon.

Trisha:  For all three of us, the work that we do requires them to get pretty intimate with us about the challenges, fears and things they don’t do fantastically well. It’s kind of like you have to turn over the rock and see all the bugs because that’s the only way you’re going to “get” them. You’re going to take them to a completely different trajectory. And a lot of times they don’t see the bugs or they do see them but don’t want to recognize them. If they did, they’d be like little kids. If I should close my eyes, they don’t exist, right? You’re taking them out of their comfort zone. That’s not easy because they’re usually fairly far along in their careers and gotten rewarded for the way they are. 

Dan: What about the challenge of hiring an advisor to help enhance your self-awareness? How often do egos get in the way or is that overblown?

Trisha: It’s not overblown. But I think the good, smart leaders who value the message they’re communicating within their own company culture and on behalf of the company are serious about making changes within themselves. There is a silly line of thinking in some leaders, however, that if you have a coach, consultant or advisor to help you improve yourself, you’re somehow a weak-minded person. That’s utterly ridiculous.

Lee: Yeah, how does that work for athletes? If you’re an athlete and don’t have a coach, there’s got to be something wrong with you, right? So why do some people in business look down upon having a coach or multiple coaches?


Aligning Perception With The Story You’ve Told Yourself
The challenging conversations we have as consultants with our clients happen when we talk about the gaps that exist between what they believe about themselves and what others understand about them. Nonetheless, those conversations must happen in the name of reaching alignment with the culture and authenticity as a leader.

Dan: I have to add there’s even a benefit from a brand development perspective when you hold yourself accountable. Imagine if they talk to any of us and then we talk to their clients and strategic partners to get the full, unvarnished story. We’ll likely learn a tremendous amount about the company and people in it. And guess what? There may be at least some difference between what you think your story and perception is compared to what other people actually believe about you. So if you can re-align with those perceptions, you can tell a far more authentic story about your company and the people within it, including you as a leader.

Trisha: Of course, it’s not always easy speaking about that perception gap to someone, even though you have to do it.

Lee: No, but the second part of what you said is so vital, Trisha. You have to do it. I can remember being in a leadership group and having to ask a member to leave because nobody wanted him in it. He had this marvelous perception of himself the whole time. I’d never had such a tough conversation with someone, but I did ask him, “Have you ever done a 360-degree assessment? I think you could really benefit from that.” 

Trisha: And? Did he do it?

Lee: Not at all! He wouldn’t do any kind of assessment because in his mind, he was already off the charts fantastic. When I show other leaders this type of assessment and its results, I’ll typically hear, “No one’s ever told me about these traits or shown me these types of results.” To which I say, “Well, have you ever asked anybody before?”


Nobody Ever Told Me That
We assume that a lack of change at the top of the organization is because a leader is too egotistical or stubborn to change at this point in their career. Sometimes that’s true but not all the time. It can also happen because people in the organization have a fear of communicating their perceptions of leadership – which is a reflection in itself of the culture. 

Trisha: That’s actually one of the problems with a lack of inclusion. Is there someone willing to tell you the truth about yourself? The worst thing that can happen to someone is that you go through an organization, get promoted and no one tells you where there’s room for improvement, whether that’s minor or massive. So the behavior gets normalized. And that’s where you eventually get the response of, “Wow, no one’s ever told me that.” 

Dan: The truth is, they might not always believe us right away when we’re doing the assessment, like a brand strategy. But I do know they definitely pause when it’s a client. Like when it’s a group of people that you’ve interviewed and you say, “Well, these people said all these things about you and frankly, we saw some common themes. Some flattering and some you should be aware of immediately because they may be in need of fixing pronto.”

When you have that, you’ve got a fighting chance of making them change. If they’re truly self-aware and want to make change, they will. 

By the way, one for either or both of you: Have you ever dealt with a leader who was transparent about themselves trying to change in the eyes of their staff? Or were they just petrified of communicating that idea? 

Lee: I’ve had a couple bosses like that. But they’re rare. 

Trisha: I’ve worked for a lot of different people who were secure in their abilities. They didn’t feel threatened by you. Those are the ones that would let people like us help them grow and develop.

Lee: We have a “Best Boss, Worst Boss” exercise. We ask them to think about your best boss. We have six emotional intelligence measures and rate them. And we ask them how they felt working for these best bosses and how much extra effort they would put out for these people. Then we ask about the worst bosses with the same questions. Then you have them look at the word clouds around how they described each of these categories of bosses. Is this how you want to be described? How long would you work for these people?


What Do You Value? What Do Your People Value? How Different Are The Two Worlds?
In the bubble or ivory tower that leaders find themselves in, it can be difficult at times to have a finger on the pulse of what others in the company value most. Without being a study of these values, leaders will pretend the status quo is perfectly acceptable when it could have a monumental impact on employee retention.

Dan: Here’s the disconnect sometimes that I see: There are ways that leaders measure success and ways people in the organization measure their happiness and that’s not necessarily the same thing. So, for example, I worked in an agency where the head of the place walked out into the room where all the writers and designers were. He says, “Guess what, guys? Our billings are up this $ amount from last year. Isn’t that great?”

You know what? None of us cared. You know why? We also cared about awards. We cared about doing awesome work that we could show in our portfolios and would challenge us to deliver our very best. That was the kind of thing that made us happy every day. Our happiness had nothing to do with billings or anything to do with the bottom line of the agency. The only time we ever cared about that was if we still had a job as a result of that so we could do the kind of work we wanted to do with integrity. So we were all like, “Oh. OK. Guess that’s good because that means security.” In retrospect, how much did that matter? This guy didn’t care about any of that stuff we really valued.

Trisha: I believe if we look at some of the leading companies who might ask their direct reports about managers every quarter or six months, the majority of those questions wouldn’t be about technical ability. It would be about personal ability in the form of behaviors. And that may very well have a big influence on who gets promoted.

So, in this sense, self-awareness is so relevant, whether it is an accounting firm or consulting firm or some other type of services firm. I think they’re always big on the talk of relationships, but they don’t always groom the next generation of those who could have relationships. So that if this wonderful person who is the head of a certain practice department retires, well, has your client ever dealt with the next person up in a meaningful way? If not, better late than never but boy, you should have been doing it so much sooner than when your retiree is packing up his or her office.

Dan: What’s your take on leaders that try to do it all or say they can do it all…but in reality, will try to figure it out later?

Lee: It goes to the heart of self-awareness but I think more leaders would be comfortable in their own skin if they would just be honest about what they or their firm can’t do – or can’t do as well as other firms. So many of them tend to talk a bit game but when push comes to shove and you’re actually doing the work, it’s only a matter of time before you’re found out as far as what you can and can’t deliver. It’s the worst thing from a self-awareness and perception standpoint. It’s better to say, “I can do this for you, but it’s not a strength or the primary thing I do. You have to know that. And it may be better if I identify someone who can be a better partner for what you need.” That goes such a long way with certain people who will undoubtedly respect you even more.

Your turn – are you as a leader strong enough to address your blind spots and elevate your self-awareness? Are you motivated to change your behaviors in a way that the organization might model that behavior…or are you more apt to keep kicking that can down the road and ignoring the problem? 

If you’re serious about becoming the best version of yourself as a leader, one that builds a powerful legacy for yourself and for others to follow, talk to Empowered today. If yours is an organization with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in need of bringing your culture closer together through assessments, workshops and coaching programs, talk to Leading With Courage Academy. And if you find your brand isn’t reflecting your organization’s best qualities, it’s time to have a conversation about implementing a marketing system that just works better by connecting with Caliber Brand Strategy + Content Marketing. 

Trisha Daho of Empowered helps professional services firms make strategic transformations so they can decide what they want most and how they can get it. She also creates inclusion strategies for up and coming leaders at large services firms. 

Lee Eisenstaedt of Leading With Courage Academy focuses on succession planning and leadership development assessments, workshops and coaching programs – primarily to organizations with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Dan Gershenson of Caliber Brand Strategy + Content Marketing helps professional service firms that lack a traditional marketing department build, grow and ignite their brand development with a proven marketing system for success.