—By Nick Petrie

Have you worked in this type of organization? It became successful by meeting a particular customer need and found a winning, repeatable formula. Around that formula it developed a strong culture that was: siloed, technically expert, and good at executing. Over time the environment changed and the challenges the company faced became more complex and unpredictable. While the company’s culture still had good aspects to it, it was not quite right for the new, uncertain future. The culture needed to evolve to be more; agile, innovative and cross functional. I don’t know about you but this is the challenge that many successful organizations I meet now face. The question is how does an organization make that shift?

Developing individuals is not enough.

For many years I thought I had an answer. I ran popular leadership development programs. The leaders told me they loved the programs, gained self-awareness and learned valuable tools. We were preparing leaders for a V.U.C.A. (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) future. However, I noticed a problem. When I followed up a year later and asked leaders what had changed, they often said, ‘not as much as I expected’. I saw that while the individual leaders were growing and changing the cultures that they worked in were not keeping pace. The leaders learned about strategic thinking, collaboration and risk taking, but their cultures still rewarded tactical thinking, siloed behavior and never failing.

Culture acts like a bungee cord.

My assumption had been that if you grew better individual leaders the culture would inevitably change. It didn’t, at least not fast enough. The culture was like a bungee cord. The more the individual leaders pulled out ahead of the culture the stronger it pulled them back. It takes a lot of energy to stretch the bungee and stay ahead of your company. In the end many leaders get worn down and either stop stretching or cut the cord and leave.

A rising (culture) tide lifts all boats.

Leadership programs are incredibly valuable, and organizations should continue them. But I came to realize that the biggest results came when organizations learned to grow their leaders and evolve their culture – at the same time. Not as two separate methods but as one unified approach. Programs on their own might help individuals. But if you elevate the culture as well, the rising tide lifts all boats.

How do you create that rising tide?

Over the last 7 years I’ve worked with dozens of organizations who were interested in growing their leaders and evolving their culture. I’ve learned many lessons, made a few mistakes and helped the organizations and leaders have many successes.

About six months ago I gave myself a break to stop and write about what I’d learned. I’ve summarized it all in my new white-paper Leaders Developing Leaders: Stretching the Cultural Bungee Cord.  It focuses on the story of 4 of the organizations I partnered with to vertically grow their leaders and cultures. You’ll see all the tools and methods we used and you’ll hear from the CEO’s and executives who went through the experience. They’ll tell you what we did, what it was like and the results they got. Nearly any organization could emulate this if they followed the same process.

Thanks for reading!

Nick Petrie

PS – If you are the sort of person who finds the ideas above interesting you’re probably a great fit for the Vertical Leadership Incubator. Join Nick Petrie and Carl Sanders-Edwards Vertical Leadership Development in your organization. Vertical development is at the leading edge of our field and a great way to add more tools to your toolkit!