A company culture is a reflection of its ownership. I use this phrase often and have seen it's truth again and again. The tone a leader sets directly shapes how a company is managed, what the culture is based upon, and ultimately how customers and clients are treated over time.
And what sets an exemplary company culture from an ordinary or toxic one is something intangible. Something that you can't readily see like your sales numbers for the week, yet you know when you feel it - whether you are a patron of or work in that business.
Inside to Out
And that invisible, intangible core of a business that forms the company culture is its values. Not just what's written on a company wall or website, but values that are lived inside of the leadership and ownership of a business that translates to how its managed and interfaced with the marketplace. Especially when no one is watching.
And Donald Sterling found out that everyone is now watching.
When I first heard about Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers pro basketball team's racist comments that was allegedly taped by his girlfriend, I felt like I got kicked in the gut. In a taped conversation, he stated to her that he doesn't want her to bring black people to his games, and other derogatory sentiments.
What hit me hard was the sickening feeling of someone who built his fortune on those he despises. Where his own values are now on public display, reflecting the ignorance and bigotry he upholds for those that work closest with him and for him.
Anyone who follows sports knows that it's as much a business as anything else. Imagine being the head coach, Doc Rivers, trying to guide and mentor your team through the playoffs as they are in the middle of in the time of this writing, and knowing that your boss detests your own race and that of the majority of your players? His whole team has been transparent about the level of pain and distraction this has caused while trying to bond together through this adversity.
Imagine how this impacts everyone on the team, fan-base, the public, and their brand. In business parallels, it's equivalent to a manager trying to protect her department from the toxicity of the board or President, yet not being able to control the dysfunction that's upstream.
Seek and Hide
The sad part is that this has probably been going on for years, and no one has challenged the irony of how he could lead an organization based on those he despises? With the world we live in today, there is less room to hide. With social media, video, and audio technologies, how we show up as leaders is easier to track then ever before.
This is a painful yet powerful reminder that our values, not just the ones we publicize, but our real values inside of us, conscious and unconscious, that guide our choices and decisions which shape our company culture and results. So what does your company culture tell you about your own values? It can be a confronting mirror to look at your business this way, and even more confronting down the road if you don't.
And it is in these intangibles that greatness or horror are founded upon.