Kill ‘Em With Culture!

Larry Strong - American Income Life VP Agency Leadership Development

Larry Strong - American Income Life VP Agency Leadership Development

Culture is a word we hear often in our business, and one of the primary topics taught at Leadership Academy 301 is “Developing a Culture of Success.” If culture is as important as we think it is, what exactly is it and why is having the right culture so vitally critical to a successful organization?

Before we dive in, let’s take a minute to think about some well known organizations. What do the New York Yankees (sorry Boston fans), the US Marine Corps, and Nike all have in common? Each of them has a well defined and strong culture that has withstood the test of time. Each of these organizations fully understands that it really starts and stops with culture.

Webster defines culture as “the customs and achievements of an organization”, but for our purpose I am going to define culture as the combination of 3 key components.

Personality of Leadership

An organization’s culture starts with the personality of the leader or leaders. This will include their character, level of integrity, values, communication style, temperament, willingness to embrace and resolve conflict, enthusiasm, energy, etc.  Since a significant aspect of culture is a direct reflection of who we are, it goes without saying that we have to have the right stuff that translates into doing the right things. This is why it is so important for each of us at American Income Life to be committed to becoming better people and leaders on a daily basis. The mind, body, spirit connection is a reality. The action we take to sharpen each and strengthen the connection is our daily choice. Choose wisely.

Clear and Concise Expectations

I was privileged to spend 4 days in the Surace-Smith Agency this week, and I can testify that there is very little, if any, confusion about what is expected and why. They go to great lengths to make sure their new people have a good understanding of what is going to be expected from them as well as what they can expect from the leaders in the agency.Setting clear and concise expectations from the get-go positions us to help eliminate surprises, conflict and excuses. The truth is that people want to know what the expectations are, because they don’t have to try and interpret or guess (in most cases, wrongly).We need to be careful and not necessarily think that clear and concise expectations are a way of micromanaging or bossing people around. If we truly care about their success, we have an obligation to help them understand very clearly that our expectations are tied directly to helping them be willing to do the things they are going to need to do to be successful. Remember, that is why they “hire” US—to show them how to be successful.

High Levels of Accountability

Many organizations struggle with this key ingredient, and the culture is negatively impacted as a result. One of the reasons it can be a weak link in the organization is because the expectations have not been clearly communicated. It is virtually impossible to hold people accountable if expectations are not established. The process will be dysfunctional at best.Every strong culture exhibits a willingness to hold people accountable to their expectations. And in our environment at American Income Life, getting people to be and feel accountable to themselves should be our objective. If and when someone in our organization is not doing what is required to put them in position to win we have a moral, ethical and professional obligation to ACT. If we don’t take remedial action to help get the person on the right track we become complicit in their failure. We need not take any credit for anyone’s lack of success.


In the final analysis, we are only as strong as the CULTURE we recruit to. Recruiting does solve almost every problem, but having the right culture and doing all we can to continue to improve and protect it will give you the longevity, sustainability and legacy you want. And remember, culture is not something that we either have or don’t. It’s really a question of whether we have the one we want and need to achieve success.

Let me challenge you take a thorough and honest inventory of these 3 ingredients as they relate to your culture. Ask some people in your organization who will be honest with you to define how they see your culture. And remember, don’t kill them with kindness. Kill ‘em with culture!

Stay Strong! Lead On!

About Mark Ting

Mark Ting is a Staff Writer at Torchmark Corporation, writing about American Income Life and National Income Life Insurance Companies. Google+

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