Profile: David Kahn of Rendina Companies
CURRENT ROLEManagement Theorist, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, and author of “Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes”
University of Florida
What’s your definition of company culture?
When I think of culture, I’m really talking about the group mindset, mentality, practices. It’s how a group communicates, motivates each other and themselves, and the sub-cultures within the larger culture.
What do you think the role of HR is in shaping culture?
A lot of companies think HR is in charge of the culture. HR does play a very big role, but it can’t be the lone leader. That has to come from the top of the company and trickles down throughout the entire company. At any level it can get diluted or watered down, but it can also improve. It takes one leader to make that difference. Instead of supervising culture, I see HR as the barometer of the culture, assessing whether it’s moving in the right or wrong direction, and bringing that back to the leadership with solutions and ways to make improvements. Then HR and leadership can work together to implement these changes.
Can you talk about what got you interested in writing a book?
The book was an idea I had during a training that I was leading about five years ago. I was boring myself and I needed to do something that was going to make the session more engaging. So I asked the question, “What makes Batman such a great leader?” The room got very quiet for a minute, and then exploded with chatter. The leadership example was about the fictional character of Batman, but there were things that they could say about themselves, as well. No one talked about fighting crime or having a bat cave. People talked about his skills and the way he communicated, trained people, brought others along, and served as a mentor. That’s what makes Batman a great leader. And from that moment, I started initiating conversations like this more and more as part of my training. This became the impetus for “Cape, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes.”
What kinds of things are you most interested in working on right now?
I focus most of my time on culture. It’s hard to make any substantial organizational changes without having an eye on the culture. And if you can get the culture in the right place, organizational change becomes easy. It’s creating and harnessing and promoting that culture of collaboration, flexibility, and positivity. Some people accept the negativity that an organization may have – I don’t think you need to. If you can maintain and support a positive culture, you’ve created self-motivated individuals who want to move the organization forward and make things better.
Where do you look for inspiration?
There are leaders I’ve worked with who I try to emulate. I feel like if I could just be more like them, I’d be more effective. I have family and friends who inspire me, and I have to mention the fictional leaders, like superheroes, and the examples they provide. All of these people and experiences help me live by the leadership principle to treat people like people. If you can do that, then the culture will be fine.