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One Question with Jason Bingham, vice president of Trane
How does the culture of an organization affect its success?
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Jason Bingham: “Really, what my book helps people see is that leaders have the ultimate responsibility for culture. If they’re conscious of the culture they want to create … then they can be consistent. Consistent in the experiences you provide to your associates, so that they start to believe those things are important, those values you define.”
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Jason Bingham has spent years figuring out how to succeed as a business leader. In his latest position as vice president of Trane, Bingham now sees himself as a "leader of leaders." Instead of leading a team, he is now teaching others how to lead.
When he took on this challenge, he pulled together everything he learned as a leader in past organizations. As he organized his ideas into PowerPoint slides, he noticed they began to turn into sections, which naturally started forming chapters. The idea for his book, "Cultureship: The ACBs of Business Leadership," was born.
Bingham recently spoke about how he has used culture to succeed as a business leader, how he is sharing his knowledge with other leaders in his community, and, finally: How does the culture of an organization affect its success?
"Most people would nod their head when you say, 'Culture is directly connected to business results.' But when you then say, 'And you can change that culture and change those results quickly,' that's when people twist their head and say, 'What are you talking about?' That's really the difference in this book. It not only states that, but it states it in terms that describe pragmatically how you do it. It shows where I've screwed it up, and gotten it right, and learned some things, and been able to practice it in different ways.
"My first leadership job was going into a high-performing culture. ... A lot of people don't even get to experience a high-performing culture, so to be thrown into it from the start was amazing. I screwed up a ton. It was actually the hardest year of my life, of my entire life. I thought I was going to fail daily. But through that I started to figure out what [culture] was and how I could lead, with culture. So that was huge, and I really honestly feel like it's a blessing and something I wanted to pay forward ever since I experienced it. I talk to different friends of mine all the time about how could I help people experience what I did, because I got to see it and feel it.
"I then got to go to a culture that was the exact opposite - it was not a high-performing culture. It gave me the perfect opportunity to figure out how to build it. As I look back on my career, it's really interesting because I got thrown into a high-performing [culture], then I got to learn something and practice building a high-performing [culture] in a place that wasn't, and then I got to in my current career figure out how to lead leaders to lead high-performing cultures. If you wrote the script, it would be the perfect path to figure this thing out.
"Really, what my book helps people see is that leaders have the ultimate responsibility for culture. If they're conscious of the culture they want to create ... then they can be consistent. Consistent in the experiences you provide to your associates, so that they start to believe those things are important, those values you define. Then consistent with what I call ARM the culture: allow, reward and model. As the leader sees these behaviors start to take root in the culture, then they allow it, they reward it, they model a response behavior that continues it. If they are conscious and consistent, they can change those behaviors very quickly, in my experience six months or less.
"If you think about the leader having the ultimate responsibility for culture, when that culture's screwing up, the first person to look at is in the mirror. I've got strengths, and those strengths are also weaknesses. I'm full of energy, which means I also tend to run over people, get too direct, not include people in decisions. The failings I've had, the challenges I've had, have generally been due to me not providing those experiences in the arming of the culture.
"I remember vividly coming home one day, and my son was treating my daughters ... with a total lack of patience. I was watching myself. I remember sitting down and the weight of that really hitting me, and I realized that if I didn't change I was going to create me in my son. ... That's a synonym for culture. They're going to follow the leader a lot of the way. If I'm leading a certain way, I'm going to build those behaviors in the culture, so if I see behaviors that are not right I've got to look myself in my eye and ask what I'm doing to create them.
"I decided a while ago that ambition may not be a good thing. It can keep your eyes and heart closed to what the path is supposed to be. I've given up a target of a role. I don't think that's appropriate. Instead my goal is to add as much value I can to the role I'm in. Then the next role becomes evident. ... I've gotten very conscious and mature about leading with culture. I'd love to help anybody do that, from a small business that just wants to talk about it to a large corporation that's trying to figure out how to acquire companies in a successful way.
"One of the messages I hope the book brings is that I'm no culture genius. That's not what happened here. In fact, it's probably the opposite. The message is, this can be learned in time. This is not some way-off thing. ... The reality is that anybody can do this. Anybody that has a desire to lead with culture can take these lessons and tools and can go do it. They just need the courage to take the step forward and talk about culture, and they'll make it happen."
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