“Culture Eats Vision for Lunch” — Dr. John Maxwell

What I Learned Today….

I had the pleasure of attending an event this last spring, with speaker John Maxwell. It was truly an opportunity. There were many statements Dr. Maxwell made, which I still remember. I clicked on the Maxwell Minute I had saved for later and culture was the topic. Then Dr. Maxwell said, “Culture eats Vision for lunch”. I know every industry, every organization, every group even, has a culture. I have worked in the healthcare industry for over 20 years and this industry is no exception. However, this statement in particular resonates acutely with me.

So what is culture? Well in business, culture is the way those in a particular industry, organization, and group work, think, and behave. Sounds benign enough. The ideal is when specific standards are expected- processes run smoothly and efficiently, the best outcomes exist, and morale remains high. Then there is vision, which in business is the ability to imagine a concept often conceived with unusual foresight. Having vision as a leader or an organization is ideal for growth potential, market competitiveness, and continued opportunities for staff development. Therefore, culture and vision seemingly would benefit most by fueling each other within an organization.

It would make sense for a culture in it’s ideal state to still be able to agree with its leaders’ visions as the best method of reaching the organization’s maximum potential. Once this reality was recognized it would be understood- the standards have changed and processes and outcomes would also need to change. This reality would also lead to increased morale fueled by the understanding that growth, competitiveness, and opportunities would also change exponentially. Dr. Maxwell gave two explanations why this would not happen, “Your behavior of today determines where you go tomorrow” and “We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are”.

These two statements, I believe, apply to everyone in a culture from the top down. When leaders teach that change of vision is coming, it is inevitable, it is good and then reproduce their behaviors of the past it is only natural for the rest of the culture to follow suit. So even though the leaders’ behavior yesterday said the new vision is good, their inability to commit fully to the ideal is exhibited today and that inability to commit to the new is reproduced in everyone under them. Suppose the leaders are talking the talk and walking the walk, then seemingly everyone else would follow.

Well, according to Dr. Maxwell’s statements, that’s not true. He did not say leaders’ behavior or leaders teach, he said your behavior and we teach. Which means everyone within the culture, CEOs, vice presidents, managers, supervisors, team leads, front line staff, everyone. So even if upper management is onboard with the new vision, but managers and supervisors are not, then it would be rare that everyone else would embrace the new vision.

So what does this have to do with my twenty years’ experience in healthcare? I have been in healthcare long enough to know healthcare is an industry with a deeply ingrained culture, which is also known to be somewhat resistant to change. I have seen a lot of new visions creating changes in healthcare, of course less than some people. Currently healthcare, as an industry, is undergoing a tremendous amount of visionary change, seemingly all at the speed of light. I admit, it’s difficult to keep up.

However, I have learned from Dr. Maxwell that although I cannot, in my current position, control the changes made through the visions of others; I do control my behavior towards those visionary changes and I do have the ability to teach others to either accept or resist the vision through my behavior. I believe this realization will serve me well as I learn to become a leader in data and project management. My ability to help others embrace visions and changes is vital to the success of every project and organization.