Cult(ure), by Adam Cuppy


Embracing individuality and finding alignment as a collective is tough. As a leader, the line between company culture and a dogmatic cult is thin but entirely avoidable.

By the end you’ll know: Is this a “Culture of Talent” or a “Cult of Conformity?”


As a team leader, the line between company culture and a dogmatic cult is thin. Embracing individuality, yet finding alignment as a collective, is tough. Understanding what defines one over another is critical so everyone can bring 100% of themselves to table.

In this talk I’m going to talk about the mechanics: finding values, embracing individuality, understanding the role of leadership and empowering every member of the team. I’ll also identify pitfalls, red-flags and a set of questions to ask yourself everyday to make sure that what you have a is “Culture of Talent” and not a “Cult of Conformists”


“Your company culture is your operating system” - Dave Gray (@davegray)

The talk is broken into four parts:

  • The source of cult-like behavior;
  • The downward spiral of fear-based control;
  • The ideal company culture promised land; and,
  • The questions to ask yourself to avoid the trap.

Below are a few short snippets from each section:


Tony Robbins identified “Six Human Needs” that we, as people, consistently work to fulfill: Certainty, Uncertainty, Significance, Love & Connection, Growth and Contribution. How we pursue these needs varies, and we get fulfillment from all areas of our life - positive and negative.

Downward Spiral

You see, although we are inspired by pleasure, we are ultimately driven by pain; the pain which comes from the fear we won’t feel pleasure. This feeling is experience by both the leadership and the team members. As leaders, we are often empowered (and encouraged) to manage the people we oversee. When you combine fear and authority the answer is often to constrain and control.

Promised Land

Developing a company culture is an organic evolutionary process. Each member of the team (leaders included) are like colored pencils: each color is unique and specific, yet each pencil shares a common function - to create art. The more the options, the more dynamic the artwork; and with each new color, the pool of options grows, exponentially.

The answer is not to constrain the diversity, but to embrace it, encourage it, and empower it to solve new, huge problems.

“Leaders” ultimately, are an organization’s test suite, not it’s implementation. Leaders assess if the actions being taken are working to fulfill the core values of the organization, or are out of alignment. As a team, there is a fine line between sharing values and enforcing conformity; leaders assess the former.

Question to Ask

As a team, we have one “convening question:” How can we bring the most value to ourselves, our team, our community, and our company?

As an individual this is an evolving list, but as a company, we’ve landed on:

  1. Are both leaders and members empowered to effect change?
  2. Are leaders and members held accountable, equally?
  3. Are members punished for asking “why?”
  4. Are you fulfilling your own needs?
  5. Do your core values align with the organization?

I’ve given this talk twice before; once for Rocky Mountain Ruby Conf.

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