Culture is a leader’s single greatest asset. Why? Because culture works 24/7. Culture never rests. Culture continually reinforces, over and over again, the values of the organization.
What is culture? Culture is the spontaneous repeated patterns of behavior by people. And I want to create a culture where every leader makes heroes of the people around them. I have the privilege of providing leadership for three significant organizations, and in each of them we are creating a hero-making culture.
Let me give you two examples of what hero-maker behavior looks like.
1. Bob Buford: “My Fruit Grows on Others’ Trees”
I was fortunate to have Bob Buford, a brilliant leader who made his fortune in the cable TV business, as a mentor. When Bob’s only son tragically died, he went through a shift he called “Half-Time,” which he described as moving from “success to significance.” I would describe that shift as going from “trying to be the hero” to “being a hero maker.”
After that shift, Bob developed a practice of always carrying a 3×5 card in his front pocket, upon which he’d list the names of 10-12 young leaders. Bob did everything he could relationally and financially to help them do the truly heroic with their lives. Bob had a motto that describes the intention of every hero maker, “My fruit grows on other people’s trees.”
2. Shalane Flanagan: “The Shalane Effect”
For the first time in 40 years, an American woman won the New York City Marathon. Shalane Flanagan crossed the finish line in a blistering time of 2 hours 26 minutes. But the New York Times explains that Flanagan has an achievement that’s even greater than winning the New York City Marathon:
…perhaps Flanagan’s bigger accomplishment lies in nurturing and promoting the rising talent around her, a rare quality in the cutthroat world of elite sports. Every single one of her training partners—all 11 women in total—has made it to the Olympics while training with her, an extraordinary feat. Call it the Shalane Effect. You serve as a rocket booster for the careers of the women who work alongside you, while catapulting forward yourself. Shalane has pioneered a new brand of ‘team mom’ to these young up-and-comers, with the confidence not to tear others down to protect her place in the hierarchy.
Shalane is not just a great runner; she is a great runner who makes every other runner around her great!
I want to create a culture in my organization where people behave like Bob Buford and Shalane Flanagan.
So how do you create a culture where every leader wants to see their fruit grow on other people’s trees, or where the objective of every leader is not just to be great, but also to serve as a “rocket booster” for young up-and-comers around them?
I believe there is a 7-Step Process for Creating a Hero-Making Culture. Here are the 7 steps to guide you:
Step #1: Declare It
A hero-making culture starts with you declaring it. There needs to be a pivotal moment where you make a commitment and know there is no turning back. If you are ready to lead a hero-making company, not-for-profit or church, write out your declaration. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or ready for publication; it just needs to be personal. Then keep it in a place where you will see it several times a week.
Step #2: Do It
The second step is for you to do it! You will be tempted to teach it or vision cast it. Please resist. Before you teach it, you need to do it yourself. As the leader, you are the primary culture creator. Culture is more caught than taught. You will reproduce not what you teach, but what you do!
Step #3: Brand It
Once you declare it and do it, you may be thinking, “Ok, now can I teach it?” Please hold off just a little longer. This third step will help you teach it to your organization more effectively. Your next step in creating a hero-making culture is to brand it. Branding includes making your culture sticky by creating new language and telling stories. My book, Hero Maker, offers you new language and lots of stories. The term “Hero Maker” is used to describe a leader who thinks of others first and multiplies generations of leaders.
Step #4: Teach It
Now you are ready to teach it, and I have found the best way to teach is a process referred to as “heart, head & hands.”
Heart—Leaders need to feel it in their hearts before they live it out in their lives. Your people need to feel your passion. And one of the best ways to help them feel it in their hearts is by telling stories.
Head—Leaders also need to get it into their heads. They need to understand intellectually how it is grounded in the values of your church or company.
Hands—Leaders need to receive permission and encouragement to live it out themselves. The goal is to change behavior.
The goal of teaching is to get a significant percentage of your people behaving as hero makers who dramatically influence others and create culture.
Step #5: Recognize It
The fifth step in creating a culture of hero makers is to recognize it. In the words of Ken Blanchard, “Catch people doing it right.” What gets rewarded gets repeated. You can recognize it in a hallway conversation or by sending a note, a text, an email; posting on social media or writing a good, old-fashioned letter that can be kept and reread.
Step #6: Repeat It
This sixth step is the hardest; repeat steps 1 through 5. You will think that your people will have heard it a hundred times and are bored and sick of it. Not true! It is just now starting to sink in and change the culture. So don’t stop repeating it, over and over again. When it comes to creating culture, intentional repetition is your ally. Repeat it. Repeat it. Repeat it.
Step #7: Institutionalize It
The last step for creating a hero-making culture is to institutionalize it. When it is written permanently on your wall, finds its way onto the annual calendar, or people re-arrange their lives to do it, that is a sign it is seeping into your organization’s DNA.
Leaders, focus your best efforts on creating a hero-making culture, and it will work for you 24/7!
Dave Ferguson is an award-winning author, founding and lead pastor of Chicago’s Community Christian Church, a missional multi-site community considered one of the most influential churches in America. Dave is also the visionary for the international church-planting movement NewThing and president of the Exponential Conference. His most recent book is Hero Maker: Five Essential Practices for Leaders to Multiply Leaders.