Who Is Carrying Your Culture Flag?

Don’t worry, this blog is NOT related to our current topic of interest – standing or kneeling during the National Anthem. However, it does relate to flags. Back to flags in a moment, but first a word about culture. One truth about culture is that every organization has a culture – the only question is whether that culture is by design (which happens least often) or by default (most often). Is your organization’s culture by default or by design?

IF you do have a culture by design that serves everyone, a critical element for sustaining your culture is to have zealous culture flag bearers. These are the people who will carry the organization’s culture flag no matter what the obstacles or risks. These are the people who are all in and committed to securing the culture, for today and for the future.

During the Civil War, every unit in both the Union and Confederate armies had a flag that was carried with the unit into battle. To be clear, regimental flags were not posted at the rear but were literally carried with the unit into battle by a flag bearer. The units took great pride in their flags and protected them with their very lives. These regimental flags were also great sources of morale, much like an organizational culture can and should be. During the Civil War, to capture the flag of an opposing unit was considered a great honor, which leads to the nature of flag bearers.

As I shared above, the flag bearers were dedicated to carrying and protecting the regimental flag during a battle, but it was not just the designated flag bearers that did so. If one flag bearer went down during a battle, other men would immediately pick up the flag and carry it forward, leading the unit. In fact, the flag was a critical element during a battle, letting the entire unit know where to follow. In other words, the flag was a guide post in the battle, much like culture can be for an organization.

There is one famously reported legend that eight men of the 69th New York Volunteer Infantry (part of the legendary Irish Brigade) were either wounded or killed carrying the regimental flag during the charge on the Sunken Road at Antietam in September 1862. Imagine that kind of dedication to the cause and to the team, to your culture.

While it might not require risking life and limb, a similar level of dedication and commitment is needed in order to create and maintain a culture in an organization or within a team. There are so many ways that we can lose sight of our intended culture, let it slip away or be distracted from it, but when you have culture flag carriers in your organization, they can carry the culture flag even in the most challenging times and situations.

Back to our two original questions: 1. Do you have an intentional culture; and 2. Do you have passionate and dedicated culture flag bearers to assure that the culture will be continued despite setbacks and obstacles? If not, you know what you have to do!

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  1. Maureen Beck says:

    This took me back to my days as a high school teacher. We discussed the courage that it took to pick up the flag, knowing that enemies would most certainly consider that individual a prime target. I believe the same is too often true in the workplace when considering the flag bearers of culture mentioned in this piece. As leaders, we must be mindful not only of the selection of our flag carriers, but also of our own responsibility to assist and support them should they come “under attack”.

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