As leaders and coaches, what are the most powerful qualities we can use  to improve corporate culture and remove the barriers to cultural cohesion in the workplace?  was one of the topics discussed recently during a podcast organised by ICF Pittsburgh as part of their Beyond the Basics: Advanced Topics in Coaching Course. The conversation featured a range of topics taken from the book: Professional Coaching- Principles and Practice by Springers Publications.

We discussed chapter 8: Managing “Invisible” Cultural Issues to Create Partnerships That Work. I wrote the chapter not only for coaches working across boarders but also with managers, entrepreneurs and directors of organisations in mind.

One of the themes that we discussed was what are the most powerful qualities that we can use, as leaders and coaches, to improve corporate culture and remove the barriers to cultural cohesion in the workplace. When you are considering how to create an effective organisational culture as a leader within a diverse organisation, there are three key attributes that you need to consider: safety, trust and presence. Here’s why

As a leader within a diverse organisation, how do you remove the barriers to cultural cohesion and build a successful company culture?

We look at the moon every night and we talk about the dark side, but how many of us know that the dark side is lighter than the side that we see? When I heard that, I was amazed, it really opened my mind to a different way of thinking because I wanted to imagine what was there. That is what safety, trust and presence do, they open your mind to new possibilities.

Why the focus on safety, trust and presence?

When there are big changes, it can become scary. When we are scared, we fear and that’s what bias is.  That’s when biases take place. We look and we think everything looks a little bit scary, so I’ll just stay here and keep myself safe. That’s what bias is about – keeping safe. Rather than being concerned about others, the priority is about how can I feel safe?

That’s why safety is an important theme too. Because within that fear, I believe that you can only be safe if you are willing to trust. If you are able to open yourself up to new experiences, to consider that other people look at the same things that you are looking at, but have a different way of looking at it, then you can begin to build trust.

You can only build trust if you are present and willing to connect. That’s why safety, trust and presence are so important to me, they are powerful ways to remove barriers and build cultural cohesion and shared values

Can you describe some of the personal experiences that you have had, that led you to uncover the importance of safety, trust and presence in improving corporate culture?

When the Berlin wall fell, I was one of the first Western European consultants to go into the Eastern European workplace. Most of my colleagues were men. I was very young, about 30-32 and I was the very first woman stepping into that environment. So I had to find a way to feel safe. People were looking at me, they expected a lot, they thought that I was highly intelligent, just because I was from the other side of Europe. it was a lot of pressure and it gave me what we would now call imposter syndrome. It is this type of situation that causes people to put up a shield at work, a barrier. And so I did.

However, I quickly realised that if I kept this shield too close, I would not be able to connect with others or do my job properly. So I had to find ways to overcome the difficulties. Part of my job was to foster communication, to help entrepreneurs to build connections and network, to find funding from banks and do new things that they had never done before, I understood that to be able to do that I had to be open and to be open I had to feel safe.

So I took myself back to my Venezuelan roots, to my Venezuelan way of thinking. To the memory that women in Venezuelan culture are seen as being very strong and highly respected for so many different reasons etc.

I knew that I had to feel comfortable within the Easter European culture and I would only feel comfortable if I was willing to put myself out there. And for that I needed to trust that everything would go well – and for that I had to fake it, until I made it! That is one of the most powerful experiences that stands out in my mind. The first time that I really understood what it means to feel safe, trust and present within a corporate culture.

I am committed to supporting corporate leaders and organisations to understand the important role that culture plays in organisational success. Through both leadership coaching and corporate training, I continue to help organisations find solutions to implement projects and manage teams.


This post is the second delivery of a 3-post series

Part 1: Why values fuel successful leadership

Part 3: Why safety, trust and presence build successful organisational culture and leadership