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What is the Performance Culture Leaders Want to Foster?

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Can Do or Yes Man Spirit with silhouette of people walking

‘Can do’ spirit or ‘Yes Man’ syndrome.

What is the Performance Culture Leaders Want to Foster?

I was sharing about growth mindset with a group of leaders and used a personal example of how I said ‘can’ to my director even though I knew the project was impossible. One of the goals of our HR department was to achieve the People Developer Award qualification and my colleague who was the project champion identified a total of 21 gaps that needed to be addressed to pass the assessment. She was stressed over the project and confided to me that it was impossible to complete. I empathised with her but could not help her as I was not part of the project team. Unbeknownst to me, she was very stressed and went to my director asking to relinquish the project champion role. The next day, my director called and asked me whether I could take over the project. I said, “Can” even though I had a feeling that the project would fail. At that time, one of our core values was ‘can do’ spirit.

I wanted to challenge myself and demonstrate the company's core values. In the end, the project failed.

The senior leader in the group exclaimed,

“Is this the kind of values we want from our people? To say yes even though the task is impossible and doomed?”

He raised a valid question about the kind of culture leaders want to foster in their organisation.

When does ‘can do’ spirit cross into ‘yes man’ syndrome?

In a Business Times interview with LinkedIn Chief Operation Officer, Daniel Shapero, he explained that the crux of building a culture is in defining what success means, and then celebrating those things consciously and consistently. Do we foster a culture of growth mindset or reward ‘yes man’? That is a question that needs both internal and external clarity.

I think a can-do spirit is the attitude and willingness to deal with difficulties head-on, giving it our best. On the other hand, a ‘yes man’ can be defined as a person who constantly puts others’ needs first, avoiding disagreements, agreeing to tasks and taking on more things without considering his/her own needs. I have not found an organisation that would say no to their people possessing a can-do spirit, but leaders need to be mindful to check in on the needs of their staff, ensuring that the ‘yes’ is backed by both confidence and skills rather than a need to please. Leaders also need to have conversations on the wants and needs of their people and not overload their plate. The can-do spirit person energizes and lifts up the people around them while the ‘yes man’ is avoided by their peers.

Look at the overall results from the staff with can-do spirit versus ‘yes man’ to determine who should be rewarded.

As Shapero says,

‘promote people who not only do well at their jobs but who also lift up the people around them’.

So are you fostering a can-do spirit or encouraging a ‘yes-man’ syndrome in your team?


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