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Culture Kills

by on February 14, 2013

Learning from History

Our work exploring the implications of organizational culture and the link to leadership & complex life systems can sometimes seem like an impossible task. We recently discovered a few resources, through our involvement with Leadership Calgary which fit perfectly with the focus of our consulting practice. The resources focus on learning from historical examples of innovation in complex systems, and on being aware of the implications on organizational culture and people. Learning from history is also a key focus of the resources, and links to the work we are exploring with Mark Kozak-Holland.

The resources outline how the airline industry’s inquiry and disciplined practices used by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) could be applied to other industries – specifically healthcare – to help save lives and money. The creation of the NTSB was reliant on – and helped to foster – a massive culture shift within the airline industry, which was linked to a fundamental change in the function of leadership.

In an interview with Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, famously known as the pilot who landed flight 1549 in the Hudson River, he describes how organizational cultures with leadership that act like “small g gods and big C cowboys” coupled with an emphasis on conventional notions of leadership can have deadly results. Literally. (By conventional leadership we mean formal, top-down, authoritative management.) However, a culture based on the cultivation of learning and co-responsibility coupled with notions of adaptive leadership – leadership which is primarily focused on enabling others – results in saving lives, reducing harm both physical & existential, and monetary waste.

Although these resources are focused on transferring the innovation in the airline industry to healthcare we believe there is an opportunity to embed this innovation in the oil and gas industry, in areas like process safety management (PSM) and operational excellence (OE). Without leadership that enables a reliable, collaborative, learning organizational culture through trust and transparency, the organization will fall short of reaching its excellence goals – and put safety at risk. Our current work in the areas of PSM and OE are a perfect fit for this type of culture transformation.

The choice seems pretty clear to us. We look forward to continuing our work to help organizations work through cultural shifts that will build their adaptive capacity through adaptive organizational culture and leadership models.

Evidence of Adaptive Organizational Culture

Evidence of Adaptive Organizational Culture. Photo from

FYI: if you are interested in learning about adaptive leadership and what it takes to develop the type of resiliency required for life’s most critical challenges, Leadership Calgary is currently recruiting for it’s Class of 2014, heres the link.

Resources referenced in this blog post:

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