(#124) When a Culture of Yes is Really a Culture of No

 “It is possible to build a culture around
innovation, leadership, and optimism…”
Eric Schmidt

“Rather than nurture the people on their bus,
weak leaders throw them under the bus.”
Steve Piscitelli


Video recommendation for the week:

In a 2008 talk to the Economist Club of Washington, Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke about the benefits of establishing a “culture of yes.”   Such a culture fosters innovation at all levels by encouraging and listening to divergent thinking. (I have included the video of his talk here.  Fast forward to the 26:00 mark in the video to hear his remarks about fostering a real “culture of yes.”)


Mike Myatt in an article for Forbes.com says, “The word no ends discussions, stifles creativity, kills innovation, impedes learning, and gates initiative. Put simply, the word no advances nothing, grows nothing, builds nothing and incentivizes nothing.”

Makes sense. A leader who has created a “culture of yes” wants “people on the bus” who challenge assumptions–even disagree with the boss.  Such a leader creates a culture based on trust and mutual respect.

One of the best leaders I have ever had the opportunity to work with was Veronica Valentine.  (Please notice that I said “work with” not “work under” or “work for.”)  She was one of my principals during my life as a high school teacher at Stanton College Preparatory School.  She had a simple rule: “It’s ok to disagree. Just have an alternative, a solution, or something other than just a complaint.” Dr. Valentine taught me to think through my thoughts and move in a positive direction.  She set a high bar that very few of my future supervisors have ever come close to.  She, in short, had created a “culture of yes.”  She encouraged and earnestly listened to counter points.   And we did OK in that culture. Stanton was a national model school.

pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unfortunately, what I have come to witness time and again over my more than four decades in the workplace are so-called leaders who have such weak skill sets that they can only rule by fiat and threats.  Rather than nurture the people on their bus, they “throw them under the bus.” They have bastardized the culture of yes to one that is a “culture of yes people.”  They want no argument or disagreement. In fact, to ever say anything counter to these so-called leaders is tantamount to job suicide. As everyone around the leadership table meekly nods their collective heads yes, the boss has implemented a “culture of no.” No innovation. No individuality. No disagreement.  No lasting advancement. No soul. A “culture of no” takes a stranglehold.

A short drive down the road from the “culture of no” you will find the “mantra of can’t.”  When people are fearful of incurring the ire of the so-called leader, they will default to “can’t” when a new idea is floated. Oh sure, there will be plenty of “reasons”–but the biggest reason is that people have come to fear for their jobs. Or they become so focused on upward mobility they forget about what is really important. I have witnessed far too often that when the day comes that the so-called leader casts them aside, they wake up one morning with no job–and a damaged soul.

In their book Guts! Companies that Blow the Doors off Business-as-Usual, Kevin and Jackie Freiberg emphasize the point that “gutsy leaders have dismantled fear-based management and replaced it with heart, soul, discipline, loyalty, humor–and long-term record profits.”   One of the strategies they suggest is to start a meeting with the question, “What are the 25 dumbest things we do around here.”

Those that create a “culture of no,” however, don’t want to hear about the dumb things they have created with their hubris. Anyone who dares to point out that the emperor has no clothes is made an example of. That sound you hear? Why it’s the bus rolling over another poor soul who dared disagree or offer another perspective. Eventually, the “safe” mode for more and more direct reports is to quietly nod acquiescence.  And the organization slowly slithers into a soul sucking purgatory.

So-called leaders who nurture blind adherence either don’t have a clear vision or lack leadership talent or both.  Eventually they will only be able to attract and hire people who will be shaped and controlled.

The Freibergs remind us that “great people hire great people. Idiots hire idiots.”

Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B.as needed!

REGISTER NOW for my October 12, 2012 P.D.Q. Webinar “Social Media with Purpose: Tips from a Non-Techie!”  Click here  or paste this link into your web browser:https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2376790441069310976

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. Please pass it (and any of the archived posts on this site) along to friends and colleagues. You can also follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. If you get a chance, visit my Facebook page and join in–or start–a conversation (www.facebook.com/stevepiscitelli). Also, if you have suggestions for future posts, leave a comment. Have a wonderful week!

© 2012. Steve Piscitelli.

 

12 Responses to (#124) When a Culture of Yes is Really a Culture of No

  1. eunice says:

    i surely understand and agree but we all has to be open minded and opinionated

    Like

  2. eunice says:

    meaning, people has different opinions of the people in leadership each does not reflect the other, and in order to not step on toe, you just has to keep an open mind and draw your own conclusion.

    Like

  3. jessa jordan says:

    jessa: I completly agree society today would not be going through have of the stuff we are if we all have a positive out look and instead of knocking people down or going agianst them. we should rise as one and stand together.. itstead of fighting against the people that are on our side

    Like

  4. Hi Steve! Loving your guidance from afar, can’t help but feel like this latest entry is super applicable to me this week…as I was recently laid off from my seemingly promising new job of 1 1/2 years. It was the biggest, most corporate retail company I have ever worked for, and being based out of my home certainly had its personal perks. But looking back – no wonder I grew a sort of paranoia to ‘where do I fit in?’ and ‘what’s it all for?’
    I seemed quite small to begin with as they were counting on me to grow their business. But being thrust into a well fermented culture of ‘no’ – I suppose my spirit and work ethic never stood a chance? Or did it? – hence your mentioned “mantra of can’t”!? Its still a bit fresh, but can’t stop questioning why they would let my GREATNESS go so easily!

    I am steeping on this paragraph:

    “A short drive down the road from the “culture of no” you will find the “mantra of can’t.” When people are fearful of incurring the ire of the so-called leader, they will default to “can’t” when a new idea is floated. Oh sure, there will be plenty of “reasons”–but the biggest reason is that people have come to fear for their jobs. Or they become so focused on upward mobility they forget about what is really important. I have witnessed far too often that when the day comes that the so-called leader casts them aside, they wake up one morning with no job–and a damaged soul.”

    Oops, so that was me! Key word: “was”.
    🙂 Onwards!
    Ashley Smalley – Philly, PA

    Like

    • Hi, Ashley. Good to hear from you. Sorry to hear about your job. That culture of “no” is deadly. I have seen this/heard of this (from colleagues) nationwide. True leadership is so scarce. I know for me that with each new position in my career I have learned more about the characteristics I want to follow–and those from which I need to distance myself. I can truly count on one hand (a few fingers in fact) the really effective leaders I have had the good fortune to work with in my life. Each was extremely confident in himself/herself…and each had trust in the people he/she led. TRUST. That is it in a nutshell. I have come to trust my instincts…my gut responses….and they seldom fail me. You have great skills and talents, Ashley. I understand that we all have to pay the rent and buy the groceries. At the same time, I am still a believer that we can follow our passion. For me, each night there is a question: Did I make a difference today? And when I awake: How will I make a difference today?

      Keep making a difference, Ashley! 🙂

      Like

  5. ann says:

    thanks this

    Like

  6. […] When a Culture of Yes is Really a Culture of No  *  Rather than nurture the people on their bus, weak leaders throw them under the […]

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  7. Ricky T. says:

    I like Mike Myatt article in forbes, one of his statement “The word no ends discussion, how a two letter word kills motivation,” that is so true when trying to develope new leaders.

    Like

  8. Zay says:

    The quote means in order to sail you got to understand and guide the boat or person don’t have to tie them down with orders or not sail at all got to be able to communicate and cooperate with each other in order to be a successful leader

    Like

  9. […] When a Culture of Yes is Really a Culture of No  *  Rather than nurture the people on their bus, weak leaders throw them under the […]

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