Organizational Culture: An Aphorism is “Worth a Thousand Words”

organizational culture aphorism

In our daily lives and our daily work, we are undoubtedly impacted by subconscious messages that we have been socialized to accept. Often these are reflected in the choice of leaders that our society venerates. Other times, these messages enter our lives via quotes, mottos or aphorisms, such as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” that are so common they are often cliche.

Though they may seem harmless in everyday use, these mantras are incredibly powerful, simplistic guideposts on our thinking and how we prioritize our time and attention. For example, how many colleagues do you know who seem to operate according to the principle, “if you want something done right, you got to do it yourself?” or, “if you want something done, give it to a busy person?”

Acknowledging the presence of these subconscious beliefs is the first step in making any sort of change; these believed aphorisms might be ingrained in your organizational culture, and/or they might be ingrained in your own modus operandi. For example, in the case of the above mantras, trying to instill a culture of empowerment of staff might be challenging if it’s commonly accepted among the managers in the organization that they need to “do things themselves” if they want things “done right.”

In some organizations, recognizing that this is pervasive and unpacking why managers think that people below them can’t do things “right” might be exactly where to start to facilitate culture change.

What Aphorisms Are Guiding Your Culture?

Knowing what beliefs and behaviors drive your culture is the first step to changing it. Take a few moments and write down some aphorisms that guide your own approach to leadership and life. Then, think of a few that guide your organization.

Once you finish, take a look at some of the common (and not so common) quotes below. How does your agreement (or not) with these statements match up with the current-state of the culture in your organization? How do these mindsets serve you (or not) in your own development as a leader?

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.

There’s no time like the present

If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got

Perfect is the enemy of the good

Winners never quit and quitters never win

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

You can sleep when you’re dead

Time is money

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

Move fast and break things

Change or die

When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’

As you reflect on these statements, It’s also critical to remember the aphorism, “what got you here won’t get you there.” While a reliance on “doing things yourself” could work at certain stages in your development as a leader, or your organization’s development, it might no longer serve you or your organization given the current state. That doesn’t mean that the aphorism isn’t true– it just means that belief in these truths might be holding you or your organization back from operating more optimally.

And if that didn’t convince you to re-examine how aphorisms are subconsciously guiding your thoughts and actions, this statement might: ”Echoes from the walls you build around yourself hurt your ears the most.”

What aphorisms guide your leadership and culture? We’d love to hear from you!