Culture of One

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Aligning Yourself for Maximum Leadership Impact By Kendra Momon

Oftentimes, we relegate the word “one” to its surface-level meaning of being a part of a numerical counting system or being the first in an order or pairing. While these precepts are factual, “one” also means to be a member of a group, to be a single ordering of a thing, or to be one in particular. According to Strong’s Concordance, “one” in Greek is sozo (Strong’s Number 4982) which is translated in the New Testament as “safe” or “rescued”— as in salvation, wholeness, healing, or to keep something safe and sound. A deeper dive into its word usage indicates that “one” also means being the same in kind or quality, the number denoting unity, in harmony, in agreement, and whole.

It is within this framework that I want to examine the word. I want to look at “one” through the lens of being complete, whole, congruent, and lacking nothing. In this regard, to be a “culture of one” means you are an individual and the beliefs, values, principles and practices that shape you are integrated, harmonious, in agreement and aligned.  In essence, being a culture of one means that, to the best of your ability, you operate in authenticity and congruence. In both head (thinking) and heart (feeling), you are one as it relates to what you believe and why you believe it, who and what you value and why you value them, what principles and practices you live by, and why you live by and reinforce those principles and practices in your family, friendships, leadership, organizations, institutions, and spheres of influence. More importantly, as a leader, you are a culture of one because you set the tone, pace, and environment of the culture.

H.E.A.R.T.

One of the most important aspects of your leadership is your heart. Your heart determines everything about how you lead because it is the storehouse of your leadership thinking and wiring. If you are going to be an effective culture of one, you may have to start off by wearing your heart on your proverbial sleeve. As a leader, especially leading organizations with culture drift or an absence of clarity of culture, you will have to go first and let your emotions be felt and seen. To wear your heart on your sleeve means to let it all hang out as it relates to your leadership passions, desires, fears and trepidations. I know this can be a lot to ask of leaders of certain Myers-Briggs types. Don’t blame me—blame Shakespeare. In his classic, Othello, Iago laments,

It is as sure as you are Roderigo,

Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago.

In following him, I follow but myself;

Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,

But seeming so, for my peculiar end;

For when my outward action doth demonstrate

The native act and figure of my heart

In complement extern, ’tis not long after

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.

—Othello, Act 1, Scene 1, 56–65

These words command me to ask a question: When was the last time you led from a place in which people could easily read you because your heart was so exposed and transparent that they were compelled to follow you as you follow Christ?

I ask this as I remember a time, some years back, when Holy Spirit gently whispered in my ear about the power of the heart while I was preparing to do a leadership training with Mo in Cape Town, South Africa. Our company, Momon Leadership, had been invited to present a 3-hour training for a church network with campus sites all around the country. As I quietly sat and watched waves crashing onto the shore, God began to illuminate the depths of all the richness that is hidden in plain sight within the word “heart.” This seemingly overused and undervalued word is power-packed. Clearly, it was my time to see it for the fullness that it was and would continue to be for me and for the others with whom I’ve been blessed to share its meaning. So, heeding instructions, I grabbed a blank sheet of paper. I invite you to do the same.

With some space between your letters, write out the word HEART. Now, take a moment to think about what you see within the word HEART. As I did this, I saw and heard two things. The first thing I saw was the word EAR. The second was the word HEAR. Mind blown. Tears flowing. I was like, “OMG, why have I never seen this before?” A praise break ensued. Just as I was about to break out into the electric slide, Holy Spirit gently prompted that there was more. As I gathered myself, I heard this: “You have to have an EAR to HEAR the HEART of those around you!” I then began to take the word HEART and connect the spaces in between the letters— it’s interesting how similar in shape both the ear and the heart happen to be.

Being a leader who has an ear to hear the heart of another is a culture game-changer. It speaks without speaking, and creates emotional and social capital that goes beyond the moment to create organizational and leadership gold and culture change. Wherever you find yourself, whether alone or in a crowd, you are always a culture of one. Before social media, political pundits, popular podcasts, or pop culture impacts and influences you, you should influence those around you. Let’s see how you can be a culture of one in your environment, thoughts, friend- ship circles, and legacy.

Environment

The beauty of being a culture of one is that you also get to shape and rethink your culture based on your own growth, evolution, and needs. Your environment is anywhere in which you set the dominant tone, pace, and atmosphere. It can be your home, your office or cubicle, your car… even your head via your Air Pods. “Environment” also refers to your atmosphere, your personal space, your “Zen zone”, your decompression area, your creative place, and your safe haven. In a world seemingly out of anyone but God’s control, it is important to create and protect space where you can be at one with your thoughts, views, values, and beliefs. In your environment, you should be clear about your expectations, requirements, boundaries, likes and dislikes. The culture you create should reflect the values and beliefs you respect. For example, if you respect organization, your home should reflect organization.

The challenge with being a culture of one is that you are also responsible for who and what you allow into your environment. If you respect and value work/life balance, but you constantly find yourself responding to calls and answering texts after established work hours, your environment will be off. As you can imagine, the challenge is that you have sole responsibility of maintaining your culture of one. As such, you either have to exercise self-control or develop a strong accountability system to help you establish or maintain guardrails that will keep your environment in alignment. You should be aware of your unique wiring as you attend to this:

  1. Be aware of what brings you peace.
  2. Be aware of what brings you stress.
  3. Be aware of what you read, listen to, and watch.
  4. Be aware of your needs.
  5. Be aware of what adds value to you.
  6. Be aware of what drains you.
  7. Be aware of what triggers you.
  8. Be aware of when you need to rest.
  9. Be aware of what you need to do to decompress.
  10. Be aware of what you do when you are at your best.

In being conscious of these things, you ultimately are dialing in to what makes and shapes your culture, as well as what does and does not work for you and the culture you are called to create.


Thoughts

One of the most important places to maintain a positive, healthy, and godly culture of one is in our thoughts. While we all know this to be true, how many times have we allowed negative thoughts or speech to creep into our hearts, minds and thought processes? How many times have we let the negative opinions and even criticisms of others shape us in a detrimental way? If we are going to be a culture of one in our thoughts, we have to stop negative words, thoughts, beliefs, and actions in their tracks. We have to be mindful of what we let in, and we have to feed ourselves positive thoughts and starve negative thoughts. A few practical things we can do to reinforce the culture of one in our thoughts are reading the Word of God to refresh and renew our minds,  listening to life-giving music, podcasts, and audio books,  surrounding ourselves with positive and wise friends, mentors, and accountability partners, and developing a personal relationship with Holy Spirit and inviting Him into our innermost thoughts. As you do this, consider these mercies:

  1. Be careful with asking, “What’s wrong with me?”
  2. Be careful to not compare yourself to others.
  3. Be careful to not overthink things.
  4. Be careful to not over-dramatize things.
  5. Be careful to not turn into Chicken Little. (The sky is not falling!)
  6. Be quick to forgive.
  7. Be willing to start over.
  8. Be willing to admit when you are wrong.
  9. Be open to seeking professional help.
  10. Be willing to have accountability partners in your life.

On your journey of being a culture of one in your thoughts, remember these admonitions:

Don’t fake it, because you won’t make it: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36, KJV)

Reveal it (whatever it is) so Jesus can heal it: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, KJV)

Perspective is everything: “In all thy getting get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7, NKJV)

Friendship Circles

You are also a culture of one in your friendship circles. In this regard, your values should always rise above, and not be subject to, compromise. You should be clear on your dos and don’ts as well as your non-negotiables. You should seek to build friendships and relationships based on mutual core values and not prestige, popularity, opportunities or appearances. Also, be mindful of whom you call “friend,” as we are in an age in which everyone is a “friend” thanks to Facebook. It’s worth repeating:  not everyone can or should be in the “friend” category. It’s perfectly fine to categorize people as acquaintances, associates, colleagues, comrades and friends. Let me be clear: while you don’t have to stand on a soapbox with a megaphone in hand, making public announcements about who is who in your life, it is perfectly fine to categorize people in your heart and mind.

I remember a mentor once saying that you shouldn’t call anyone “friend” until you’ve really been through something with them. At first, it didn’t make sense to me. Now, it’s crystal clear. The premise of the statement is that we need some type of litmus test by which to truly measure whether or not a person can be one that sticks closer than a brother. Can your relationship be tried by the proverbial fire and come out on the other side solidified? If you aren’t sure about this—and even if you just need some time to vet things out—don’t be afraid to establish boundaries, standards, guard rails, expectations, and even parameters surrounding your associations and potential friendships.

Legacy

Lastly, you are a culture of one in the legacy you create. What do you do now, while you are still alive and present on the earth, to impact people? What do people say about you when you aren’t around? If—unbeknownst to you—a hidden camera crew were to follow you around and document your life, what would it record? For me, legacy is what we leave behind; it’s the love, kindness, humility, compassion and generosity we sow in the here and now.

One of the things I always say on the first day of a semester, especially in my Introduction to Leadership course, is that I hope I share one nugget that can be a keepsake for life. I say this because, in looking at the legacy of my mentors, leaders, and even loved ones who are no longer here on earth, the nuggets they shared with me are what have kept me going. One of my favorites that I keep close to my heart is from my nana. I had come home during winter break from my Ph.D. studies, and I had a lot on my mind: trying to figure out my next steps, as there was dissent amongst my dissertation committee about my research agenda. Sensing and feeling my heaviness, Nana looked me dead in the eyes and said this: “Ken-A-Pooh, stop thinking and start thanking God!” Yes, Nana called me “Pooh,” as my favorite childhood character was Winnie the Pooh. Those words: pointed—powerful—perspective-giving. To this day, when I’m overwhelmed, burdened, not quite sure what to do, I remember the life and legacy of Mrs. Lula Bell Logan, and I command my mind to stop thinking, and start thanking God.

No matter how big or small your audience and environment, those who work and serve alongside you are given both verbal and nonverbal culture cues based on what you say and do. Selah, and let that “sizzle in your spirit,” as comedian Kountry Wayne likes to say. Let me say it again for those reading this while riding your Peloton: THOSE WHO WORK ALONGSIDE YOU ARE GIVEN BOTH VERBAL AND NONVERBAL CULTURE CUES BASED ON WHAT YOU SAY AND DO!

I know this may be a bit difficult to swallow, as you may wonder, “How do my nonverbal cues impact culture?” As a leader, ask yourself, “Am I intentional about saying ‘Hello’ to every person I encounter on my way to the office?” In practical terms, do you know how many people, on average, you will have an opportunity to impart organizational culture to on your way to your workspace? Think about it! From the time you exit your vehicle until you enter your office, you probably pass security and staff in the parking lots and hallways. You may even encounter your direct report.

If you don’t do so already, try saying “Hello” waving, or doing something to acknowledge the presence and the humanity of those individuals you pass along the way. To be clear, I under- stand that time is usually tight, and you aren’t just coming into the office to twiddle your thumbs and do nothing. However, I also understand what Brené Brown says when she states, “Clear is kind.” I say it this way: If clarity is kindness, being present in the moment produces the leadership gold of mindfulness.

As leaders, we have to be transparent. Our intentions, motives, and ways of being and thinking must be well-defined. In choosing to speak to those you’re passing—on your way to where you are going—I believe you clarify the obvious and state through your actions, “I SEE YOU,” which is the longing of every human soul. In leadership and life, “I SEE YOU” in verbal acknowledgment goes a long way on the highway of social capital and emotional intelligence.  There are so many positive and transformative cultural cues we can give to those around us that don’t cost us anything. Here are a few to consider:

  1. Be the first to speak and acknowledge others.
  2. Genuinely and authentically listen to others.
  3. Be intentional in connecting with others.
  4. Be intentional not to let your preferences dictate organizational culture.
  5. Create safe spaces for others to voice their opinions and perspectives.
  6. Avoid public and private shaming of others.
  7. Honor those below you as well as you honor those above you.
  8. Create a gossip-free culture.
  9. Create a culture that is based on values—not uniformity.
  10. Model what you want others to emulate in thought, word, deed, and action.

First things first. Before you can be a shaper and leader of culture, you must be a reader and leader of your own personal culture. Why? As a leader, you set the tone, pace, and environment of the culture. You must know this and own this if you are going to be a responsible shaper and steward of culture.

This article was extracted from the premier issue of Thrive Magazine (Spring 2021). Learn how to get your copy of Thrive Magazine by visiting us here.