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Book Recommendation

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

I’ll confess that I am often put off by most leadership books, as it tends to reduce complexity to best-practices that to often feels like a one-size-fits all set of solutions, or reducing human nature, or diverse contexts, to a set of bullet points that sound more like fortune cookie quotes than applicable wisdom. Which is why I found The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle, a refreshing resource worthy of my time. The strength of this book focuses not on propositional cliché, but rather offers a wisdom flowing from a narrative style that emphasizes how leaders can focus on developing culture, over individualistic best-practices.


Danyle Coyle spent four years researching this book to offer up some of the wisdom of the best teams in the world. He draws from business, to the military, to entertainment, to education – explaining the skills such groups have in common to generate cultures of trust, innovation, and a willingness to collaborate. One of the primary skills Coyle mentions is that leaders who are most effective in building cultures of trust all exemplify a willingness to embrace a kind of vulnerability that seeks help from others, as well as a kind of listening that empowers, which creates new ways of interacting together.


The value of the book for me were the stories Coyle shares from his research. From the Navy Seals, to Pixar, to Wall-Street to Politics – Coyle tells some of the behind the scenes events of some of the most accomplished leaders. What I loved was how often these leaders failed – or were in the midst of a crisis – which propelled them to face or imagine a new paradigm of leading.

“The difference with successful cultures seems to be that they use the crisis to crystallize their purpose. When leaders of those groups reflect on those failures now, they express gratitude (and sometimes even nostalgic desire) for those moments, as painful as they were, because they were the crucible that helped discover what it could be.” (228)

These stories of crisis and failure are encouraging, but the value of them is the emphasis that to be a good leader does not require some tactic genius, but rather the intuition to read the moment, and develop patterns of relational connectivity that builds trust and brings out the best of a teams talent. The Culture Code, emphasizes that as leaders we need to spend more time thinking about the behaviors that share our organizations or teams future, then it is about management skills that produce efficiency. Building a culture of what Coyle calls a “Creative Purpose” isn’t really about creativity per say, but rather about building ownership, providing support, and aligning group energy toward the hard, uncertain, and ultimately fulfilling journey of making something new.


143 pages. Clear and Accessible reading – read it on a plane or at the beach. Lots of antidotes and stories, supported with cutting-edge science, lived insight, and practical ideas for action. It can be a bit reductive in explaining the complexities of groups – but does an excellent job of highlighting the behaviors of leaders, across disciplines and spaces, who create cultures where people achieve extraordinary results.

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