This is not who we are


I remember watching “Breaking News” on TV. The issue concerned the massive protest movement where scores of people were hurt and properties destroyed. A leader gave a press conference. He said: “But this is not who we are.” I agreed. But later, in a panel interview, a guest said something that caught my attention. He said, and I paraphrase, “Our leader says this is not who we are. I disagree. This is what we have become and we need to address this reality if we want to solve the problem.” Perhaps the leader refers to the past years of his younger days when people were civil and respectful. But the past is different from the present when people have become different in terms of values and behavior. I am not doing a political commentary of events as politics is a subject matter that is way above my pay grade. Still, I can immediately connect this observation to corporate culture and values.

Have you ever visited the lobby of a huge corporate office? You may see an enormous wall, and engraved on it is the company’s corporate vision, mission, and core values. The designs are a lot more colorful and modern with BPOs and call centers, and some may even have huge LED displays, but essentially, they showcase the same thing. What these companies are saying is: “This is who we are.” Other companies put up a sign of the same thing right at the employee entrance or, in many cases, printed on their employee IDs, reminding them, “This is who we are.” But why do some organizations have a toxic culture? And the people in it seem to behave in ways that contradict the values they are advocating? Let’s look at the possibilities. 

Perhaps, “This is who we are” may refer to who they were once, but is no reflective of what they have become. A set of tenets do not define a company’s culture. A plaque on a wall or an ornament on their website does not determine who they are. A company’s culture and identity are characterized by what their people do. In other words, a company’s culture is defined by the way the leaders behave. 

Suppose the value statement emphasizes CUSTOMER SERVICE, and the leaders continue to snicker and complain and talk about how annoying the customers are. The message proclaimed is “Do what we say, but do not do what we do.” Suppose the value statement says TEAMWORK. Still, inside the organization, you find department heads fighting, arguing, and competing in an upmanship over another in front of the president or CEO. This kind of hypocrisy is demoralizing. When the leaders say they value INTEGRITY and TRUTH, but they become very defensive every time someone offers constructive feedback, what happens is that the culture created will become reactive and close-minded. “Culture” is how leaders behave, and which their people imitate and follow.

Perhaps, there was a time when the organization lived and behaved their values, but it has grown in size and there is just “no more time” to articulate, emphasize  and live the values. We need to achieve the next quarter’s targets, talents we need to hire, and products we need to launch, so the philosophy becomes, “I don’t know how you will do it, but just do it” thingy. Just like an old haunted house, the values and the rules become “ghost rules.” 

The pandemic has had leaders reflecting on these. Any crisis necessitates a strengthening of the basics and doing what is right. During the pandemic, what pulled us through is not fanciful business fads or practices, but the solid values that serve as the North Star navigational equipment that guides us through different times of uncertainties. 

Whether leaders work in their physical offices or through virtual platforms, they still have to function based on the values and the rules that define their identity. The values and the principles should not change, but should be a spotlight. Corporate values determine what the business organization stands for. “It is who we are!” It is our identity. These values define us and these are the values we stand on. The question leaders need to reflect on today as we live and work through the pandemic and face uncertainties is: “Who are we really, and on what do we stand on?” It is always good to reflect on these.



(Francis Kong’s highly acclaimed Level Up Leadership Master Class online will have another run from May 17 to 19. Develop leadership skills that translate into personal, career, and business growth in the current reality and the post-COVID world. For inquiries and reservations, contact April at +63928-559-1798 or and for more information, visit www.levelupleadership.ph)

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