This past week, I took my wife, Sharon to see “An Evening With Fleetwood Mac”, a band I loved during those formative high school years. I wondered how they would be after forty years? They did not disappoint and I learned something that night, a bit of serendipity you might say.
Once we found our seats, the lights go down and the stage gets dark. You can make out the images of the band on stage as their instruments glimmer with the reflecting light. Then you hear the thump, thump thump, as Mick Fleetwood lays down the beat and the guitars and vocals follow as Stevie Nicks takes the lead. The show is on and Fleetwood Mac opens with The Chain and the crowd goes wild.
The Drummer Makes the Difference
Then it occurred to me, it was the drums! The drummer makes the difference. Throughout the evening you could not help but stomping to the drumbeat or clapping or even playing ‘air drums’ to the beat of arguably the best drummer in Rock ‘n’ Roll, ever. Period. Fleetwood went on to prove that statement with a big exclamation mark when he played a booming drum solo during the song, “World Turning”, engaging the audience with chants of ‘are you with me’ throughout.
As a percussion player, I approach my own work in a very emotional, personal way and so I have to rely on one thing, the essence of feel.” – Mick Fleetwood
I think this is the same in our organizations, culture sets the beat and leaders are like drummers. Culture is the beat and rhythm of our organizations that everyone follows, your talent, like the band members, follow the beat you lead with. And in today’s world of exponential change, the beat is definitely a bit faster. Tom Peters calls culture the sine qua non of organizations today.
Which gets to this over-used and somewhat ambiguous term of ‘culture’.
I really like how blogger, Dave Snowden defined it,
“Culture arises from actions in the world, ways of doing things which may never be articulated, and which may not be capable of articulation. In effect, culture is always complex, never complicated. So it follows that cultural change is an evolutionary process from the present, not an idealized future state design.
So the most singularly stupid meaningless thing you can ever do is to define what culture you want. At best it’s a set of platitudes, at worst it’s a set of pious platitudes that trigger negative and hostile accusations of hypocrisy from your employees and customers alike. Culture is an emergent property of interactions over time…”
In a recent staff meeting, we had a conversation around culture and one of our newest team members described how she felt joining our team. She felt welcome and cared for by her colleagues, people willing to help, and an upbeat, positive environment. She was describing the ‘feeling’ of belonging to our culture. It is those feelings from where culture and drumbeats derive their power. Despite the posters on your walls, it is the feeling and emotional connection that makes culture so powerful and so difficult to create.
Culture is THE Competitive Advantage
Daniel Burrus says culture is THE single biggest competitive advantage in the market you can have. It is the one thing almost impossible to copy. It is also why the ‘best practices’ you might “borrow” from others will most likely not work the same way due to differences in your culture from those you are copying from. Imagine what Fleetwood Mac would sound like with a different drummer?
Now that you have the beat, you add the lyrics with your purpose and values and start playing and tweaking as you go. Ultimately you want your band to play together and improvise around the base beat that you set as the leader.
This is true for all size organizations and all leaders. Whether you are the leader of a finance/accounting department or CEO of the organization, you can, and should, set the beat and define the culture. If you don’t it becomes multiple cultures or culture by default and you won’t be making music, you will just be making a confusing cacophony of noise.
One more thing I learned from Fleetwood Mac, you are never too old to set the right beat. All of the original members, Fleetwood, Nicks, Christine and John McKvie are septuagenarians.
Take a moment and listen to the music and beat of your organization today when you get into work. What do you hear? How does it feel? What can you do to set or reset the rhythm for the future?
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