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Why Workplace Culture Matters

Workplace Culture

If you plant a perfect palm (tree) seed in North Dakota, the seed will not grow.


Is it because the seed is bad?


It’s because palm (tree) seeds need to be in very warm places with high humidity in order to sprout and grow.

It’s not just the seed that matters.

But also putting it into the right soil.

Typically when we think of improving performance, we think of improving ourselves – and that’s a good thing.

But leaders can never forget that it’s a two part equation: “right seed right soil.”

As performers, we’re like the seeds. And our job is to always prepare ourselves to be the best.

But as a leader our job is to also prepare the right soil for our seedlings to sprout.

Too often leaders blame a person’s poor performance on their lack of commitment, their lack of skill, or their lack of discipline.

But the reality is that many times the seed is fine, they just aren’t in “the right soil.”

They haven’t been given the right tools.

They haven’t been given the proper training.

They haven’t been given ample attention.

And just like a seed won’t sprout if we don’t provide the proper care, neither will a good team member ever perform if they are in the wrong environment.

It’s always about the right seed and the right soil.

So if you’re a leader make sure you’re not only trying to find the best seeds, but that you’re also doing the work to prepare the proper soil.

You’re Gossiping and You Don’t Even Know It


People say all the time “I never gossip” but unfortunately many of them are mistaken. 

They do participate in gossip, they just don’t realize it. 

Because we think of gossiping as “telling” secrets we’ve heard; but there’s more to it than that. 

To listen to gossip is to participate in gossip. 


Because when you listen to gossip you create a clearing and an environment for an emotional person to propagate their story. 

In other words you give a gossiper an audience. And that invites and encourages them to continue talking about whatever it is that they are talking about. 

Listening to gossip will at minimum make the person feel more validated and at most fan their flame to share even more. 

Because it’s hard to listen to gossip and not be agreeable and supportive of the person you’re listening to. It’s human nature to want to empathize with another person- especially when they’re frustrated or complaining. 

But by doing that you become an active member of the gossip crowd. You are advancing what is being said. 

So how do you know if what you are listening to is gossip?

Simple: Gossip is anything even remotely negative being said about a person who isn’t there. 

The moment someone you are talking to starts talking negative about another person you have immediately crossed into the gossip zone. 

And remember if you’re listening to gossip then you are participating in gossip. 

So how should you respond?

Also simple: You interrupt the person as quickly and politely yet firmly as possible and say “Hey, hopefully you don’t mind but I actually made a resolution this year that I would not talk negatively about or listen to negative talk about someone who isn’t in the room with me. I do want to support you and be a good friend though and the biggest thing I’ve learned that helps is to go talk directly with ________. I think that would probably help.”

This of course is simple but not easy. 

And yes you may lose some friends over this. And the ones you lose will probably be vocal about you being on your high horse because misery loves company and misery often gets angry when their company moves on and leaves them alone. 

But it’s the best thing you can do for yourself, the person who isn’t there, and the person who is frustrated. 

Because, as Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

Does Recognition Really Matter?


In our selfie society, it has fortunately or unfortunately become a customary expectation for us as workers to be recognized for our work.

We are used to getting immediate feedback from people on what they think about us and the things we are doing.

Recognition, therefore, has become an integral part of business operations.

We have incentives, awards ceremonies, email chains, bonuses, prizes and all sorts of other ways that we draw attention to accomplishments that people in our organizations make.

But one of the most important lessons I had to learn as a leader is that recognition, by itself, isn’t what people are really after. 

I use to think that recognition is what people wanted, but I’ve come to learn that it usually isn’t.

People don’t want recognition; people want to feel valued.

People want to feel important.

People want to feel cared for.

People want to feel looked after.

And, it’s not having your name on a plaque, on a trophy, or read off in a long list of other people who did stuff that necessarily makes us feel valued.

What makes people feel valued is heartfelt gratitude.

What makes people feel valued is genuine appreciation.

What makes people feel valued is honest admiration.

People sometimes say we’re motivated by “recognition,” but what we usually mean is that we’re motivated by feeling important, respected and valuable.

We want to know that our efforts count, that they make a difference, and that someone else is taking notice of the work that we’re putting in.

So, emotionless certificates, mundane ceremonies, and trite words devoid of authentic meaning don’t really get the job done.

Which is ironic, because for organizations it takes a tremendous amount of coordination, logistics, manpower, and planning to pull off recognition efforts.

Those things can all be good and should be done, but the part that we need to never lose sight of though is that people don’t usually need all that crazy stuff – even though it can be nice.

What they must have though, that is critical to their survival, is to feel valued. They have to feel noticed.

Which is probably why Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, used to say something that I’m only now fully understanding: “You can give them a $5 present but always give them a $50 bow.”

I think what she was highlighting is that it’s not the award, but the celebration that matters.

And it’s not even the big public celebration that is the most important part, but doing the work that it takes to make people feel truly valued.

And you can make someone feel valued with a simple note or heartfelt thank you even if you can’t do a big prize or ceremony.

So, it’s fine to recognize.

It’s good to recognize.

But recognition is not what ultimately matters; it’s making people feel valued that matters.

Send a note right now to someone who you value and who you appreciate who you haven’t told in a meaningful way in a while. I think you’ll be amazed at how effectively it works.

7 Transformations of a Servant Heart

servant heart

In this week’s episode of the Action Catalyst Podcast, Rory shifts our perspective by talking through 7 transformations he has learned about a servant heart and shares a big announcement!

Show Highlights:

  • These transformations are moments that I have served and been served and from them experienced tremendous growth. @rory_vaden
  • Fear is your creativity working in the wrong direction. @rory_vaden
  • It’s hard to be nervous when your heart is on service. @rory_vaden
  • When you have a servant’s heart you develop persistence. @rory_vaden
  • When you have a servant’s heart you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about the person you’re helping.  @rory_vaden
  • When you think about yourself fear and self-doubt set it and you slow down. @rory_vaden
  • When you think about others, you persist. @rory_vaden
  • What if you treated your colleagues the way you treat your customers? @rory_vaden
  • Partnership is a byproduct of servant’s heart. @rory_vaden
  • When you have a servant heart, the focus shifts from you to others. @rory_vaden
  • Find the people who need you more than you need them. @rory_vaden
  • We want people to work for us who are here for the purpose not for the money. @rory_vaden
  • When you’re serving someone, you have all the power. @rory_vaden
  • Happiness comes from lifting up other people around you. @rory_vaden
  • Instead of trying to find something to make you happy, spend time find a way to make someone else happy and your happiness will increase. @rory_vaden
  • Lifting up the people around you will create positivity. @rory_vaden
  • If you don’t have a servant heart you reach a place of complacency. @rory_vaden
  • Legacy does not come from accomplishments, legacy comes from serving people. @rory_vaden
  • If you’re doing anything in service of others, any work can have purpose. @rory_vaden

The Action Catalyst is a weekly podcast hosted by Rory Vaden of Southwestern Consulting every Wednesday. The show is regularly in the Top 25 of Business News Podcasts, has listeners from all around the world and shares “insights and inspiration to help you take action.” Each week Rory shares ideas on how to increase your self-discipline and make better use of your time to help you achieve your goals in life. He also interviews special expert guests and thought leaders. Subscribe on iTunes and please leave a rating and review!

The First 10 Books You Should Read as a New Leader


So you’re a leader, now what?

What do you do? 

What actions do you take?

How do you know what to do as a leader? Where do you learn leadership?

Most companies don’t have a lot of resources dedicated to formally training their leaders because they are either spread too thin, or frankly just don’t know how to actually teach leadership. 

So, you can find a mentor, take classes on it, get into coaching and of course learn from your own experience.

But still one of the best ways to learn what to do as a leader is to simply read books!

Books have some of the most concentrated wisdom available in all the world and you can glean from a person’s years of experience and/or research for free at the public library. 

So what books should you read if you’re a leader? 

Not counting the 2 books that I’ve written and the Bible, which I would genuinely recommend as fabulous resources, here are the first 10 books I think all leaders should have to read, the order I’d suggest reading them in, and why:

1. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek – This book strikes directly at the core of what leadership is: caring for and looking after others. I wish all leaders would shape their paradigm around what leadership is by reading this book because if every leader understood this, it would change the world.

2. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell – A true classic that outlines the fundamentals of all leadership. If you understand them early on in your leadership career you’ll be in great shape. 

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale CarnegieLeadership is always and only about your skill with people – and I don’t know how anyone could survive in that role without having read the world’s seminal work on dealing with people.

4. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman Similar to the previous, this book is fundamental to being able to understand, communicate with, and influence people. Technically, this is a book about romantic relationships, but don’t underestimate it’s power as a leadership necessity.

5. 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni – Now that you have some strong foundation of what leadership is and some of the basic skill sets you need to develop in order to work through people to create results, you need to know the 1 thing that makes every team fall apart and this quick and easy gem of a masterpiece will make sure you never forget it.

6. Start With Why by Simon Sinek It was hard for me to put this one so late in the list since I think it is so crucial, but all of these are crucial and so it’s the order that I’m really laying out here. This book unlocks the hidden secret of the world’s greatest leaders and just about the time you start to feel overwhelmed with all there is to do as a leader this will help remind you of the simplest and most powerful job one of the leader: vision.

7. Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry PorrasThis book is the perfect follow up to Start With Why as it connects the dots of making the leader’s vision become a reality by building “mechanisms” inside the business that make the core principles come alive. Good to Great is of course what Jim Collins is better known for, and that is a great book too but not one that I would count as core to the initial 10 books a leader should read.

8. Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels The leader of one of the largest churches in the world, Willow Creek, Bill Hybels shares rich personal stories and compelling truths about the importance of being a great leader. This is one of those rare times to sit at the feet and learn from someone who has actually done it as a leader – not just someone who writes about it. 

9. EntreLeadership by Dave RamseyThe power of this book is that it’s practical. Unlike many of the others in this list, it’s less about philosophy, and more of a how-to manual to actually implement sound leadership practices on a daily basis. Plus, similar to the previous one, you’re learning directly from someone who has built a huge organization that truly changes the world so you have to take advantage.

10. Leadership Gold by John Maxwell This is the perfect way to round out your first 10 leadership books because it highlights and punctuates all of them in an inspiring and uplifting way. Written by Maxwell later in his career, this boils down an entire lifetime of leadership lessons into one simple text.

 I don’t personally see how anyone could reach their true leadership potential without reading these 10. If nothing else, it’s a tremendously powerful start on your way to becoming a great leader!

What other ones would you add to this list?

The Meekness of Greatness


There is no such thing as a “self-made” success.

You are the byproduct of dozens of people who have invested directly into your life.

Yet, if you’re like me you probably don’t say thank you enough to the people around you who have helped you get where you are.

Why don’t we?

What is it that’s so hard about saying thank you?

Perhaps, there is something humbling about saying thank you because it forces us to acknowledge the truth that we didn’t not become who we are all on our own.

We’re not as good as we sometimes like to think. And we’re more dependent than we like to admit.

But other people have poured into us.

Other people have believed in us.

Other people have opened doors for us.

And accepting help from others is not a sign of weakness, but a display of wisdom.

So who helped you?

Who told you that you could do it when you didn’t think you could?

Who gave you a chance when no one else would?

Who showed you the way and pointed you where to go when you couldn’t see?

Whoever that person is in your life is probably someone that you need to thank.

Find that person today.

Contact them.

And let them know how much of a difference they have made in your life.

Maybe someday someone will do the same for you.