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5 Double-Edged Sword Philosophies That Lead to Destructive Company Cultures

Most of us spend the majority of our time at the office, actively working with a team, or as part of a human work system. That includes coating contractors. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the corporate culture of an organization can make or break how we feel about the organization and our place in it.

While most awake and aware leaders say they want a constructive corporate culture, many are uncertain of what it really takes to shape one. Consequently, these executives and managers unintentionally lead their people toward the fatal, destructive side of the culture coin. They do this by buying into the following five double-edged sword philosophies that can undermine your mission to craft a constructive culture.

1. Winning Above All Else

Winning is an incredibly powerful motivator. The desire to win can move mountains and bring in profits. However, when the need to win overrides better judgement, fragments and erodes core values, runs over people, and leads people to the brink of exhaustion, it must be called out and new behaviors that promote and inspire must be integrated into the culture. The pursuit of results above all else can cost relationships, health and wellness, trust, quality, and safety.

Inside competitive work cultures, members are often expected to operate in a “win/lose” framework, outperform peers, and work against — rather than with — their coworkers. What begins as a healthy race often devolves into unproductive dog-eat-dog internal workplace behavior.

Gone unchecked, a once healthy desire to “beat the competition” very often creates opportunities for unproductive behaviors and perpetuates neural pathways and automatic ways of thinking and being that result in an organization eating itself alive. This shows up on the floor by people arguing for win/lose scenarios and in-fighting for power, control, rewards, promotions, and resources. You should go for a focal shift from we to me, where personalized thinking prevails.

Even though the intentions of leaders who want to “win” are most often well-meaning, a workplace culture that values winning above all else can be fertile ground for destructive behavior and employment brand erosion.

2. Commanding and Controlling

In power-driven organizations, hierarchy reigns and members of the management team are expected to take charge, control subordinates, and yield to the demands of superiors. Historically, this has been seen as the right way to lead, and for many decades it has actually worked. This model is flawed, though, and companies managed by people who admire and enjoy this model start to atrophy and stagnate. In workplace cultures where this type of behavior is rewarded, the powerful take over and the powerless surrender.

When leaders and team members are expected and even encouraged to power up over others, people in the organization often view themselves as pawns in the micromanagement chess game — or simply as cogs in the organizational profit wheel. They lose motivation and initiative, and they give less of their discretionary time to make the organization better. Commanding and controlling is a vicious cycle, and the only way out is to call it out, inspire a new way to lead, and find a new way to follow.

3. Opposing Others

In oppositional workplace cultures, there is often a root of overcoming obstacles that afforded the organization sustainability and success over years. But what often got you here will not get you there, and opposition is one of those elements of culture — much like winning at all costs — that turns the organization against itself.

In work cultures where members are expected to be critical, oppose others’ ideas, and make “safe” decisions, people drop into fear and suppress their ideas and creativity. Opposition shows up in communication such as, “Yes, but…,” “We already tried that and it failed,” “I have been here for years and I know it won’t work,” and “No, because...” While everyone ought to be singing from the same overall hymnal and work together in tolerance and engagement, members of this type of organization spend far too much time navigating personalities and conflict than collaborating, innovating, and solving problems.

4. Pursuing Perfection

In some cases, there are leaders of quality-driven organizations who pride themselves on a commitment to excellence. While that intention may have been initially pure and congruent with the leader’s values, all too often the unconscious underlying behavior that is fostered with this value is perfection. In a culture of perfection, people do not take risks, they do not try new things, and they almost certainly do not put themselves or their reputations at risk to color outside the lines.

Leaders of many modern organizations often stake their reputations on delivering excellence or superior service. There are not many CEOs who would stand behind sending out sloppy work, but there is a subtle difference between standing for quality and being in pursuit of perfection.

Perfection, by nature of its definition, leaves very little room for risk-taking and creativity in your company. When curiosity is stifled and looking good is the primary focus, mistakes are hidden, learning is mitigated, and growth is constrained. In an environment where perfection is celebrated and rewarded, conventionality emerges as a safe bet for staying out of the boss’ cross hairs. In a work place that prioritizes perfectionism, members are expected to conform, follow the rules, and make a good impression, and the byproduct of making a good impression and following the rules is that creativity and risk-taking are thwarted, and innovation becomes impossible. Resistance to change can block progress, and complacency sets in. While certain roles demand perfection or someone could die, perfection as a culture limits and constrains what is possible for the organization and the people in it.

5. Keeping the Peace and Getting Along

Everyone in business understands the need to cooperate with others in the workplace and the need for teamwork and collaboration. However, creating a work culture where everyone has to be liked and everyone has to get along with little to no emphasis on performance or results most often leads to over-the-top consensus building, perceived favoritism, a loss of focus and ambition, inconsistent accountability, and a very destructive fear of conflict.

In a work culture where needing approval is a core component of how the organization works, team members are expected to agree with, gain the approval of, and be liked by others. In a work place such as this, disagreements are frowned upon and people are encouraged to go along with the crowd — even when the crowd is prepared to drive off a cliff. When team members fear conflict, even constructive conflict, they are incapable of engaging in debates or openly voicing opinions. The team avoids conflicts, which involves speaking up against bad decisions, thus leading to inferior organizational results.

It’s imperative to understand that “keeping the peace” workplace cultures can be an insidious theft of organizational and talent optimization. Keeping the peace has the potential to rob the organization and its people of experiencing the highest levels of role fulfillment and satisfaction. When people (and the system they operate in) do not actively engage in productive ways of being, they can never really get to real engagement in the workplace. That includes constructive conflict, speaking their truth, giving new ideas, and sharing insights about what is not working.

Intentional Culture

The five double-edged sword philosophies can pull the rug out from under your coating company’s overall mission and set you drastically off track. Shaping a constructive culture is about intentionally causing the kind of actions that exemplify your brand promise. This takes a solid intention for that culture to function as a holistic human system, meaning a system of people operating as a living and agile organism. Intentional culture is all about monitoring what you are creating and making necessary shifts along the way to ensure you are accomplishing what you set out to do in the first place.

About the Author

Magi Graziano is a speaker, author, and chief evangelist for KeenAlignment, a global people optimization consultancy firm and Inc. 5000 award recipient. Her book, The Wealth of Talent, was written from over 20 years of real-world, hands-on experience. Those who experience Graziano’s programs, on average, reduced operating expense 8 percent, improve net profit 5.6 percent, and increased revenues by as much as 200 percent. For more information, contact: Magi Graziano,

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