Founding And Tradition: Much Different

I presented to a leadership team (equivalent to a vice-president and a tight group of key directors) and two unique things happened.

One was the structure of my work for them. It was the department or division’s annual retreat for its highest level of leaders. The client and I agreed that it would be a valuable for the group to use the history of their own organization—a history that began in 1902—as the basis for understanding leadership. I focused on the period of 1902 to 1920. I watched with keen interest as they learned more of what their organizational history was—a heritage of risk, calculated gambling, making the tough decisions, and a relentless pursuit of innovation. This was the shocking reality when you looked beneath the grainy black-and-white photos.

The second unique thing of the day was that I stumbled onto a fascinating word pairing—tradition and founding. Founding was the point at which the organization and its venture began. There were beliefs, principles, and expectations that marked founding. Tradition, on the other hand, was those features that had built up over time. They were habits, ways of working, and pervasive attitudes that emerged along the way. Much of the time tradition developed long after founding and for reasons that had little to do with the organization’s moment of birth.

So, I leave you with two charges. First, look at the history of your own organization. Highly valuable insights exist there, often hidden. Second, think about founding and tradition and determine which wields the greater power in the organization where you work, where you lead.