HR leader’s Freudian slip shows what many leaders get wrong about culture

by ryanhvaughn. Posted on Sep 13, 2020    35    11

The former Head of People at Lever, Jennifer Kim, tweeted recently:

Tweet/ There are two types of tech company cultures: Type 1: “results-oriented” leaders => aggression is coded into the culture, conflict runs rampant (e.g. Uber, Amazon) Type 2: “nice” leaders who avoid healthy conflict => culture of false consensus/passive-aggression (everyone else) /End

Speaking in absolutes is a useful strategy to help ideas spread on Twitter, so I’m willing to ignore her false dichotomy here and assume she was merely trying to illustrate each end of the spectrum. Fair enough.

But it’s how she illustrated this that I found so telling.

There are two types of company cultures…1: Results oriented leaders, 2: Nice leaders.

This equivalency, that the leader = the culture, is dead on. Intentional or Freudian slip, Jennifer illustrated one of the hardest truths for many leaders to grasp:

No matter what you write on the wall, what you yourself do will drive company culture.

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DoctorDumay 1

I agree that leadership doesn’t completely equate culture but they sure have a large impact on it (think candidate selection, rewards etc).

Bananamcpuffin 3

In management classes they teach that leadership and management go hand in hand. Leaders hold the vision and help others see how their work/job fits into that and managers organize, schedule, and follow up on things to help move towards the vision in a goals-oriented fashion. Most people fall into either one or the other role and it is rare to find someone who naturally does both. So out your leaders in leadership roles and your managers in managerial roles.

freddymilkovich 32

This is why she works in HR. Simple issues. Simple minds.

JonesWriting 2

Damn, I like your style.

SuperSonicRocket 7

“If I had a gun, with two bullets, and I was in a room with Hitler, Bin Laden and Toby, I would shoot Toby twice.”

That’s how I feel about all HR people IRL.

rainbowbarfff 5

It's 100% true. I have personally experienced a complete cultural shift with the introduction of a new leader. She was "results driven", but by that I mean she was an insufferable jackass who liked to place unrealistic expectations on people so that everyone's job is constantly under threat. It was a clear strategy and one that wore the team down to a nub in like...a year.

Before she came in though, we had a really passive leader. The culture was awesome, chill, creative and highly collaborative...but I was tearing my hair out at how SLOW people moved and how many people were basically getting away with collecting a paycheck by pushing back their deliverables as long as humanly possible.

I don't think either leader had the right approach. The "results driven" leader was horrible to work under - she didn't care for quality, she completely disrespected all creative and refused to spend on quality work in showcasing the product through photography and video and was never, ever, ever, willing to tell anyone they were doing a good job. I can't even tell you I learned a lot in this role because it was like..a machine gun of deliverables and I had 0 time to step back, reflect on the work, assess wins and losses, learn programs and relevant technology. She treated it as though we were saving lives, and one day someone broke down and screamed at her "we sell MAKEUP! Not heart transplants!". And in the end? She didn't really drive results.

The passive leader cultivated an awesome culture of people who loved the work and wanted to be there but man...the 20/80 rule was STRONG in that workplace. If you wanted to get shit done quickly, this was not the environment for you. It moved slowly, and there was such a culture of passive-aggression because being "nice" was the number 1 thing we all had to be to each other. Confrontation was not looked at as a good thing. However, things WERE built and to a stronger/better capacity than the "results-driven" leader, and more importantly - people genuinely wanted to be there.

If I were to say what the best approach is? Be the passive leader culturally, but establish a really tough review system quarterly to ensure that people who don't like to work are phased out.

Salaciousavocados 2

Would it also help if healthy assertiveness was encouraged—rather than the enculturation of passive aggressive behavior?

rainbowbarfff 2

I'm confrontational and assertive, so I would love that but most people simply arent.

JonesWriting 10

I'm just floating in Reddit sea wondering why a failed "HR leader" is teaching business philosophy on Twitter.

the dichotomy is simple: HR isn't about results, it's about being nice. this a simple shut and close case of reflection.

Mmmmmm' check please!


You've clearly never worked in HR...

HR is the most powerful office in many successful organizations. They are in charge of hiring, firing, pay scales, ridiculous amounts of compliance and benefits (including leaves). They aren't there to mother employees (like many bad HR departments illustrate).

A well run HR team is a god send and can help employers to grow top line revenues, contain cost, grow bottom line revenue, all while retaining the best talent in many industries.

While I don't personally work in HR, your comment is far from reality and quite insulting.

lotusleeper 1

HR is about COYA, not about being nice. It's more like the client facing side of legal.