The Culture Code makes office dysfunction seem fixable

The Culture Code cover

Posted by on April 22, 2019

Dan Coyle’s bestselling book shows how simple changes can boost creativity, productivity, and life satisfaction

The Culture Code is not a business book, and that’s precisely what makes it a great business book. It reminds us that the skills of connecting with people are universally applicable and simple to learn. Whether you’re a volunteer fundraiser, a newbie soccer coach, or a global CEO, the techniques explained in this book can help you help others.

Author Dan Coyle draws on diverse examples. To do his research, he spent time with high-performing organizations like the Internet retailer Zappos, the U.S. Navy Seals, and an NBA basketball team. By explaining what makes successful teams tick, he shows how some cultures build people up, while others tear them down.

Culture may sometimes seem like “magic,” explains Coyle in the introduction. “We sense its presence inside successful businesses, championship teams, and thriving families, and we can sense when it’s absent or toxic . . . Yet the inner workings of culture remain mysterious . . . We know that it works. We just don’t know quite how it works.”

Like the journalist he is, Coyle deconstructs the mythology. He identifies three key leadership skills that can help create a healthy culture:

  • build safety
  • share vulnerability
  • establish purpose

Then, he thoroughly describes each of those qualities and how to turn them into actions.

Three reasons you should read this book:

1. Great storytelling

With his background as a sports writer, Coyle has mastered the art of making things interesting for a general audience. For example, Coyle profiles basketball coach Gregg Popovich, who led the San Antonio Spurs to victory more times than the team’s small budget should logically allow.

By describing concrete gestures that Popovich employs in everyday life, Coyle makes great leadership seem easy. Popovich’s example is telling because the coach himself — and his team members — would describe him as an authoritarian leader.

A great leader can hold team members to an extremely high standard, while also caring about their personal wellbeing. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. That point comes across so clearly thanks to Coyle’s skillful show-don’t-tell writing style.

2. Easy-to-apply wisdom

The most surprising thing about this book is how simple Coyle makes it seem to become a better leader. These are simple techniques, and anyone can use them in any situation. They don’t require special training, equipment or buy-in from anyone else.

For example, he explains how “overthanking” people can transform the way people feel about the group they’re in. It’s an easy thing to do, and it has a huge impact. So why not start right now?

3. Reminder: Vulnerability is everything

Like Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead and Kim Scott’s Radical Candor, The Culture Code focuses on how a willingness to be vulnerable can bring quality to life. At work, at home and in the community, a leader who admits they don’t know everything is extremely powerful.

By admitting their own flaws and foibles, a leader empowers people to solve problems and take risks. It’s difficult and uncomfortable, but vulnerability is important, and the point bears repeating.

So that’s another reason you should read this book. Though you might already be sold on the concept of vulnerability as a skill, the people around you might not. The power of vulnerability still needs to spread into popular culture.

Brown has a huge readership among women. Next, men need to learn about the power of vulnerability. I believe Coyle’s cover, storytelling and writing style will be attractive to them. So this book would be a great one to leave lying around the house or to share around at work.

My takeaway: A warm hello

This book taught me that belonging must come first. And a sense of belonging comes from the gestures we make every day. Making a connection always comes first.

Now, when I enter my home after work, I spend more time creating a sense of belonging. Only then do I ask my son about his homework and start delegating dinner tasks to my husband.

The same rule applies at community and work meetings. I arrive early to greet everyone by name before I start making asks and contributing ideas.

Do you want more harmony in your home?

Do you want to get better at welcoming new employees to your department?

Do you want your hockey team to finally win the cup?

If so, you should read this book.


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