Bookstores are filled with books sharing the “secrets” of success in the business world, many praising strategy as the key factor. Steve Proctor argues otherwise. He claims a healthy culture molded by great leadership will overpower strategy every time and why he is next in a long line of Servant Leaders to be profiled on this blog.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Steve, President and CEO of Presbyterian Senior Living (PSL) of Camp Hill, PA. He was elected to the position in 1995 after joining the organization in 1971.
Although the organization has had a strong culture of leadership for many years, it wasn’t until about seven years ago when the organization went through a merger that it had to define its culture on paper. PSL didn’t want to force new employees to simply soak up the culture through osmosis.
The same principle applies for new hires today. Each quarter the organization conducts a leader orientation over the course of a few days. The first few hours are dedicated to leadership culture. New leaders in the organization understand that they will be held to this standard by those around them. If their behavior does not measure up to the expectations articulated in the organization’s culture, it will stick out like a sore thumb.
We aren’t just talking about any culture, however. The culture that trumps strategy according to Steve is one of sound leadership. Leaders empower the staff who in turn meet the needs of the residents at PSL. The effect is that residents may not be able to define that it’s the organization’s leadership culture that makes PSL a special place, but they can tell everyone is on board and the staff is different.
Steve began writing “Reflections on Leadership” as an internal update to foster this leadership culture. Soon, individuals outside the organization wanted copies of the internal updates, and now Steve publishes monthly editions on PSL’s website for not only the sake of his own organization, but in order to cultivate good leadership wherever possible.
Steve’s Reflections on Leadership reveal what it means to have a leadership culture. Some of his past articles include insights such as:
- People have a need for meaning in their lives, and leaders have the responsibility to help employees “connect the dots between time spent on the job and meaning.” (April 2011)
- Like a long, happy marriage, a successful organization requires “staying power”—perseverance, mutual interdependence, vision, execution, and more—rather than being a one hit wonder. (March 2011)
- Leaders should do their best to notice accomplishments and celebrate them proportionally—to look for opportunities to highlight others’ successes. (October 2010)
When an organization follows principles such as these, the organization—like PSL—can feel confident when the time comes to transition leadership. Even if leadership changes hands, culture stays consistent. This is because culture sustains an organization over time. Culture, as Steve puts it, is the anchor to any organization. When your anchor is sound, you can remain steadfast through the choppiest of waters. That’s why leadership culture trumps strategy every time.
Steve understands the power of a strong leadership culture. Through a culture like PSL’s and with Steve’s encouragement through his Reflections on Leadership, it is evident that Steve is dedicated to empowering others, devoted to positively affecting his residents, and driven to coach individuals along the way regardless of the organization. For this reason, there is no doubt that Steve Proctor is a servant leader.