A Rising Tide: How Leaders Can Lift Organizational Culture

A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats

President John F. Kennedy  popularized the phrase ‘a rising tide lifts all boats‘ when he used it in a speech in 1963. He was implying that if the general economy is thriving then all will benefit.

I heard the phrase used recently among a group of business leaders who were choosing to collaborate rather than compete. What a concept! The meaning of ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ has stayed on my mind.  

Aphorisms are word pictures that make a statement of wisdom – usually in a concise way. A rising tide refers to an increase in the amount or strength of something. And even though I’m a Florida native and have plenty of experience with tidal movement,  I started picturing an engineered lock system that raises the water levels and facilitates travel.  

When I visited the Panama Canal as part of the Rainforest Business Institute, I was impressed by the  huge locks and the raw power of millions of gallons that lifted massive ships to a higher level so they could traverse the waterway. A few years later, I enjoyed the experience of travelling the Danube on a riverboat that navigated a lock system along the way. These man-made methods of raising the water level provide a vivid parallel to the opportunity we all have to engineer a better organizational culture.

Three Ways to Raise the Tide in Your Organization

Since we aren’t talking about the engineering marvel of raising the level of waters for ships, but we’re talking about you and the people in your sphere of influence – how can you raise the tide, improve the atmosphere, and lift the people around you?

What if CEO meant “Constantly Elevating Others”?

First, you must be intentional. It’s necessary to define the foundational values you want to build on. Are trust and respect part of your framework? How about fun – do you want to build that into your culture? These are discussions that not only need to happen among the founders or be mentioned at the annual meeting. Core values need to be emphasized every day in a myriad of ways to all the people.

Communicating clearly is another key. The quality of your organization is dependent on the quality of the relationships within it. What are you doing to foster feedback, engagement, and healthy dialogue with your team?

Lastly, let’s talk about safety. Obviously, physical safety is so basic, it’s even regulated by laws. We do fire drills and active shooter drills as part of protecting the safety of our team. But what about emotional and psychological safety?

Emotional safety includes showing kindness and consideration instead of dishing out sarcasm and put-downs. Psychological safety means that people don’t come to work expecting to be embarrassed or berated; ‘thrown under the bus” to use another aphorism. You can help people develop a more positive attitude, feel happier or more fulfilled, look for solutions (rather than problems), and develop hope.

You have the ability to lift the people in your sphere of influence. Never underestimate the power of an encouraging word, a smile, or a note of appreciation. Sometimes the small things are bigger than you will ever realize. You make a lasting impact on organizational culture. Be the leader who raises the tide.

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