NextGen Know-How: 5 Signs You Have a Mediocre Culture

hand adjusting a digital thermostat set to 68 degrees
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

5 minutes

It takes bold and courageous leaders to raise an organization’s temperature.

A lot has changed over the past 30 years—we can jump on Amazon and have anything delivered to our door in a day, we have hundreds of channels at our fingertips and we can Google the answer to any question in a matter of seconds. 

But there is one thing that has not changed much: mediocre leadership. While the world has moved forward at a fast pace, mediocre leaders and mediocre cultures are still the norm. Sure, there are some influential, modern leaders in business today, but unfortunately, they are the minority. There are still ineffective, traditional, uninspiring leaders heading organizations around the globe.

Why does the mediocre leader live on? Because most organizational cultures are mediocre. It’s like a temperature setting in your house—if the thermostat is set to 68 degrees, when it gets warmer, the air conditioning kicks on to bring the temperature back down to its setting. This is what happens in organizations every day. If some brave employee speaks up, tells the truth, displays excellence, or goes against the grain, the culture overtakes this one brave soul and brings him back to reality. A few high performers are no match for a mass of mediocrity.

So how do you know if you have a mediocre culture? Below are five signs.

1. Your managers spend more time and energy disciplining or tolerating low performers than focusing on the best employees. Great cultures don’t tolerate mediocre performance—they coach and support their employees to peak performance. Great leaders make tough choices when necessary. They won’t keep an underperforming employee, because they know the impact it has on their high performers and the overall culture. Mediocre leaders tend to avoid crucial conversations, and when they do take action, they approach the employee with a command and control style of leadership rather than approaching the situation as an opportunity to coach.

2. Your managers avoid confrontation. Mediocre leaders avoid dealing with challenging situations because it’s uncomfortable. Rather, they take the path of least resistance by accepting complacency and settling for less. Mediocre managers reward compliance rather than honesty and candidness. They do not speak up, because they don’t want to rock the boat. They make excuses for low performers and are slow to take action. Influential leaders realize that although difficult conversations are uncomfortable, they are necessary in creating a high-performance culture. They don’t delay action. They focus on the bigger picture by dealing with issues early, so they don’t develop into larger challenges. Exceptional leaders are bold and courageous.

3. Your managers are traditional, not modern. Mediocre managers don’t see the importance or value in employee engagement; they think employees are rewarded by their paycheck. Mediocre managers don’t see the value in feedback, empathy, coaching or appreciation. They tend to micromanage and drive results through fear. Influential leaders understand that employee engagement leads to higher productivity, which leads to results. Exceptional leaders spend most of their time coaching, appreciating, supporting and developing their employees. They understand that they, as the leader, have the ability to create an environment that fosters teamwork and collaboration, and by connecting with each employee and adjusting their management style, they can develop employees to consistently deliver their best performance.

4. Your managers like doing technical work, not leadership work. Mediocre leaders spend most of their time putting out fires, dealing with interruptions and drowning themselves in technical work. They often complain that they don’t have enough time to coach employees, give feedback, plan or be strategic. The reality is, many mediocre leaders don’t enjoy the “leadership work” and would much rather deal with technical work, because they equate their value with their technical expertise. And this is precisely why they are not effective leaders. Exceptional leaders understand the  value they contribute is how they lead their team. They spend more of their time thinking about the future, asking clarifying questions, coaching their employees through challenges and communicating a clear path. They avoid the temptation to get drawn into the technical work and make developing employees, planning and coaching their priority. They are on top of their most important priorities and create clarity for their team by consistently communicating those priorities and checking in on progress. 

5. You have a hard time keeping high performers. Mediocre managers create mediocre teams. They accept complacency, so high performers become frustrated by the lack of progress and results and ultimately adjust their level of effort down or leave the organization. Exceptional leaders set clear standards and deadlines and expect their employees to work at a high level. They challenge their teams in a positive way and reward them for hard work. They focus more time on making sure they keep their best employees and send the message that average performance is not acceptable.

A high-performance culture starts with the actions of the top leaders in the organization. It takes bold and courageous CEOs, executives and managers to step up and change the thermostat of the culture and declare that mediocrity is no longer acceptable.

People don’t follow what you say, they follow what you do. If you don’t reward exceptional performance and instead accept mediocrity, your culture will remain average. If you declare a higher standard and take action by rewarding high performers and coaching the low performers to a higher level (or remove them from the organization), you will begin to transform your culture over time. 

Leadership is not easy. It requires consistent focus on people and the greater organization. It requires having courageous conversations for the sake of the culture. Exceptional leaders are the caretakers of organizational culture. They understand that every decision they make or don’t make has a lasting impact. They choose every day to step up and lead at a higher level.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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