From Henchman to Hero: How to Change the Culture of Your Company

I know an executive who makes his associates work 24/7. Oh, you know him, too? The arrogant, or ignorant, or insecure one who parallel-paths every workstream with the sort of fast and loose inefficiency that makes you want to weep in your sleep?

But this story is not about him. This story is about you–the mid-level manager who gets sent in to do the dirty work whenever executive’s huevos are too full, and he doesn’t want to be seen as “the bad guy.”

Today you sit with a group of young, red-eyed associates. Your mandate is to yell. To teach these darling fledglings that blinking an eyelash on Saturday at midnight over a false deadline after enduring a grueling work week is unacceptable. In fact, no eyelash-batting shall be permitted ever since “Excellence demands unwavering focus.”

How do you approach it? What do you do?

You surprise us. You don’t bring up the executive order. Not a peep. You know the mere mention will cause more harm than good. You tell us, “I care for your well-being.” You explain that sometimes people lose sight of the big picture. That they grow hardened by the pressures around them.

You apologize. You admit you may have once behaved in such a manner. You thank us for our continued service. You ask us to be open with you if something bothers us. You tell us, “I am honored to have you by my side, and to be by yours.”

When finished, you run out and buy a cup of chamomile tea.

You return to your huevos del diablo of an executive. You hand him the tea, and say, “For you, on me.”

He nods. You nod back. You say, “It’s done.”

Ladies and gentleman, this is what we call a paradigm shift. It is how you change the culture of your company in a single moment.

Yes, in a single moment you set the example of “what good looks like” and it cascades. And, for the first time in what feels like eons, your team feels appreciated. And they work more happily and more efficiently than they ever have.

So, how do you go from henchman to hero in the workplace exactly?

  1. Use your own moral compass to guide your behavior, regardless of the opposition you face. You don’t need to fight the bully. Start by not letting yourself become the bully. 
  2. Step in to help a failing co-worker through coaching, training, redirection, or chamomile tea, particularly when others would rather add insult to injury. And by the way, some call “redirection” “firing” or “sorting.” I like to think of it as helping a tourist find his way around the map, so he can figure out how to get to where he wants to go because you never know when you’ll be lost in a foreign city. It happens to the best of us.
  3. Acknowledge that how we individually see the world is unique and deeply personal. How you experience life matters just as much as how I experience it. The better we consider, console, and celebrate each other, the more passionate we grow. We innovate. We make more money. We live longer. We live healthier. We live happier.
  4. Give credit where credit’s due. For hard work. For excellent work. For a new haircut. For a cool shirt. For a sassy dress. For a hilarious joke. For a thought-provoking question. For a tasty sandwich. For a nice tie. It doesn’t matter what. All that matters is you mean it.

Now that we’re on the same page, I’ll go first, and then you …

Thank you, mid-level manager, for your “insubordinate act” of workplace kindness. You gave me an opportunity to write this piece, which is a mostly true story.

Do you know someone that could use a kudos? An average person in need of a smile? An extraordinary person that deserves a shout-out? An executive del diablo that could use a cup of chamomile? Share this blog. Make their day.

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