Garden in 1910
Garden in 1910 (source: Paul K via Flickr)

At our recent Cultivate event in Portland, O’Reilly and our partnering sponsor New Relic brought together 10 speakers and more than 100 attendees to learn about corporate culture and leadership. Three themes emerged: diversity, values, and leading through humility.

Almost every speaker talked about the importance of diversity in the workplace. That’s important at a time when “maintaining corporate culture” often means building a group that’s reminiscent of a college frat house. It’s well established that diverse groups, groups that include different kinds of people, different experiences, and different ways of thinking, perform better. As Michael Lopp said at the event, “Diversity is a no-brainer.” We’re not aiming for tribal uniformity, but as Mary Yoko Brannen noted at the outset, sharing knowledge across different groups with different expectations. No organization can afford to remain monochromatic, but in a diverse organization, you have to be aware of how others differ. In particular, Karla Monterroso showed us that you need to realize when — and why — others feel threatened. When you do, you are in a much better position to build better products, to respond to changes in your market, and to use the talent in your organization effectively.

Successful companies are built around values. It’s easy to short-change your values and principles when you’re under the pressure of short-term goals, but that’s almost always a mistake. Molly Graham said that you can’t over-communicate values, and you need to rely on your principles over your processes. And Eric McNulty emphasized the importance of values-based direction: it’s a leader’s job to communicate the values that give others the ability to make good decisions on their own. You won’t get far if you never clarify the principles that guide your organization.

Another theme that came through many of the presentations: to be a better leader, be humble. Make sure you don’t skip one-on-one meetings with your team members; that’s where you find out what’s really going on in your organization. What are your team members concerned with; what are their problems? Slighting your team because of something “more important” is short-sighted. Managers serve as “shit umbrellas” that protect their teams from bureaucracy and politics: many years ago, when I asked Frank Willison, O’Reilly’s late editor-in-chief, why he was always in meetings, he replied “so you don’t have to be.” Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman developed the concept of “servant leadership.” Leaders aren’t there to advance their own agendas; their purpose is to enable the team to perform. And in turn, the purpose of hiring isn’t so you can do less work; it’s to enable you to accomplish more.

O’Reilly and our partners are committed to building the next generation of leaders: leaders of startups, large enterprises, governments, non-profits, and many other organizations. We’re following Cultivate Portland with Cultivate New York, on September 28 and 29, 2015, co-located with Strata + Hadoop World NY. If you’re interested in management and corporate culture, be there!

Article image: Garden in 1910 (source: Paul K via Flickr).