Want To Be A Great Leader? Appropriate Culture

“The Leader 193 Process” begins with awareness around emotions and culture. As a leadership consultant I avoid platitudes and ensure I define and put into context the words I use that could otherwise constitute a platitude. “Culture” is one of those words. So, in the spirit of being clear and concise with language, in my mind culture is made up of the things you do, not the labels you put on them.

There is nothing wrong with saying things like, “We have a culture of excellence,” or “We have a culture of innovation.” However, if you summarize your culture like this you should be able to articulate at least a few established things that you or your organization “does” that creates excellence or innovation. If you cannot, then you do not have a culture of excellence or innovation. All you have is a meaningless label.

When it comes to my leadership process and “Cultural Awareness and Recognition”, my premise is that we cannot make the targeted and necessary changes, either personally or professionally, for growth unless we are first aware of the things we “do” that make up our culture. And we must have this awareness without judgement, for better or for worse. Then, and only then, can we focus on the specific areas needed for positive growth.

One of the things people “do” is operate in either a “fixed” or “growth” mindset. Again, definitions abound around these two terms as books and research papers are dedicated to the topic. For our purposes we will keep it short and succinct: Fixed mindset people do not see any other way except their way. Growth mindset people are constantly looking for a better way.

From a cultural standpoint, what do you “do”? Do you draw a line in the sand and defend your way of thinking or doing to the proverbial death? Or do you always keep an eye towards a better, newer, more original, innovative, bold, or inclusive way of thinking or doing?

No culture is without its faults. But a strong culture’s positive attributes outweigh it’s negative attributes and the feeling you get when you enter a strong, positive culture is palpable.

I have had the privilege of traveling the better part of the world over my life as a Naval Surface Warfare Officer, Navy SEAL, FBI Special Agent, leadership consultant, and tourist. In my roles as a world traveler, I have seen the very best, and worst, the world has to offer. Because of my experience I am confident and proud in proclaiming I believe the United States of America to be the greatest country in the world. I believe we have a culture that is second to none. Is it a culture without faults? Of course not. Is its cultural overwhelmingly strong? Without question.

Why? Because we get to see aspects of every other culture in the world right here in our own country. Interested in some unique African cuisine and culture? See you in Adam’s Morgan in Washington, DC. Russian and Central Asian? See you in Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay or other areas of Brooklyn and Queens New York. East Asia and the Orient? See a bustling China Town in practically any major city across our country. The list goes on and on.

We have the privilege of seeing what others around the world “do” without having to travel to those actual places. That brings to bear, if we are looking or being aware, an incredible opportunity for personal growth. We have the unique opportunity to see the best of what cultures around the word “do” and then adopt it to make positive change in our own lives.

For example, I am a true and firm believer in the power of meditation, breathing, spirit, and self-awareness. I have engrossed myself in the teachings and “culture” of East and South Asia and Native Americans. Chanting, mindfulness, spirit animals, yoga, solitude, prayer… you name it. Are these the only things these cultures “do”? Of course not. But they are elements of the respective cultures that speak to me on a deep level.

Over the years I have collected photographs, artifacts, books, videos, and pieces of clothing that I proudly wear around these cultures to remind myself of the power their influence has had on my life and as a sign of appreciation and respect.

In my house, we regularly have culturally themed meals where we cook and listen to music of a particular part of the world we appreciate, respect, and look to emulate in certain ways. And you better believe that if I have a piece of clothing representing that particular culture, I will be donning it proudly.

Does this awareness, respect, and imitation around what people in other parts of the world “do” make me a better leader? A better person? In my personal and professional opinion, yes! Because I appropriate culture, I see different perspectives. I see different ways of doing things. As someone who has dedicated his life to helping people become better leaders, I can offer different ways of helping people who are in a “fixed” mindset because I aim to operate in a “growth” mindset.

This appropriation of the best I see in other cultures and people is now what I “do”. It has become a part of who and what I am. And make no mistake, I consider and proudly proclaim myself as a full-blooded American man. And in America we have the opportunity, like no other country in the world, to bring the best of what everyone has to offer to better ourselves.

I am not blind or naïve to the emotions the term “appropriate culture” engenders. It is why I used it. I want to challenge the language and orthodoxy around the term because I believe the way it is being used today limits us as a people. Being afraid to appreciate and emulate people from other cultures stifles us as leaders, as people, and as a country.

Someone who is not of Native American descent who throws on a head dress, grabs an axe, gets drunk and runs around screaming and pretending to scalp people at a party is not engaging in “cultural appropriation”. No, they are acting like an asshole.

Someone who is of one color and pretends to be another color and lives a life to deceive everyone of that fact is not engaging in “cultural appropriation”. No, they are experiencing some deeper mental or emotional challenges that are manifesting themselves in this way.

The spirit in which we do things matters. If I am wearing a piece of jewelry, listening to music, eating the food, hanging an artifact, or wearing a representative piece of clothing as a way to honor and respect the best of what another has to offer then, in my opinion, I am culturally appropriating in the spirit of trying to be my best self.

Leaders operate in a “growth” mindset.

Leaders are always looking for better ways to do things.

Leaders look everywhere and to everyone for their growth, especially to people they are different from, people from different cultures.

Leaders appropriate the best of what they find for the betterment of themselves, their team, their family, their friends, and their community.

Leaders appropriate culture.

Errol Doebler is the founder of Leader 193, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Leader 193 to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coachingkeynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.

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