Creating the Organization its Leaders Deserve

“Leaders get the organizations they deserve.”

                                                                                         —  Doug Rauch

We recently had the privilege of listening to Doug Rauch, the former CEO of Trader Joe’s and the current president of The Daily Table ( address the staff cohort and senior-leader faculty of our Leadership Academy. Doug has had a fascinating career—and has no indication of slowing down. He never stops… in fact, he wakes up every morning trying to solve problems. And he gets it right much of the time.

Doug offered many great ideas to our Academy participants. Among them was the idea that leaders get the organizations they deserve. And depending on the leader, this adage can bode well or ill.

For an organization to thrive—to be the best organization a leader can deserve—means that leaders must ensure that the basic measures of success, like structure, metrics, data, and stewardship of the community’s resources are firmly in place.  Those are a given.  But to truly thrive, it is the culture that makes the difference.   Leaders have to take the time to and work hard to create a culture that allows people to thrive.  And we must be deliberate about maintaining this culture.

For me, creating this culture is born out of setting a tone for honest, direct communication. I do not want people around me echoing my thoughts or simply agreeing with me. I want people around me who question me, challenge me, and who are willing to disprove my thinking. I want to hear perspectives from people who see the world differently from how I see it, whose experiences do not mirror my own. I want intelligent voices to tell me what I am not considering. I want to learn something new every single day. And I want to—and will—change my mind if that is what it takes to improve and grow.

According to studies in both Europe and in the United States, 85% of employees from a variety of industries and sectors are afraid to raise questions or concerns for fear of retaliation or firing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lead an organization where this was true. These are organizations where people feel unwilling and unsafe to take risks, to try out new ideas, to fail fast and fail forward, and who cover up their mistakes instead of heralding them as learning experiences.

I feel very lucky that I am surrounded by people whose strengths are different from mine, and whose intellect and voice expand the conversation. Instead, we wrangle through the problems we are solving—together. We disagree heartily. Sometimes we get mad. But in the end, we come up with a better solution, a more informed resolution, and a better direction. And in the end, we know we are better people—and a better organization—because we have created a culture where care, risk, and trust are our pillars.

And we have the organization we deserve.

I welcome your thoughts.