Embracing the ‘Soft Side’ of Success

A couple of years ago we engaged a consultant from Australia, Martin West, to help us improve our execution of client strategies and projects. His company, XGAP, works globally with Fortune 100 companies and specializes in developing high-performing companies by helping them bridge the gap between vision and execution.

Over dinner a few weeks ago in Sydney, we were talking about business and how things were going when he made this statement: “Rick, there are only two things that trump execution every time. Leadership and culture.”

He went on to explain that every time he has worked with a company where there is weak or undetermined leadership, or a culture that is dysfunctional, they never succeed. According to Martin, strong, well-informed leadership along with a healthy culture form the foundation for successful execution.

Leadership and culture deal with what I call the “soft side” of success… the intangibles of things like character, trust, values, camaraderie… while execution deals with the hard side of success… the nuts and bolts of process and transactional behavior.

I found Martin’s statement so insightful because it mirrors my experience with client organizations that struggle to succeed. In every case, there is either weak or misinformed leadership or a horribly dysfunctional culture – or most often, both.

We often go immediately to the transactional side of the equation when we think about how we can be better at what we do, when in fact the strength and nature of leadership and your corporate culture are much more important to success.

The starting point for success is with strong, effective leadership… which leads to a healthy culture. This includes intolerance of those things that make for a dysfunctional culture.

Or to look at it another way, if you are working on the transactional side of the equation for success without dealing first with the “soft side” of the equation, you’re wasting your time.


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