Profiles in Leadership – Patrick Lyons

Hiring For Good – Profiles in Leadership is joined by Patrick Lyons, Founder & CEO, Culture By Design, Inc.

The Profiles in Leaderships series features conversations with organizational leadership experts to discuss important lessons they have learned and what “Hiring for Good” means to them. This series helps us better understand the role leadership plays in positive transformations and growth for people, organizations, and the world we live in. 

This episode features a conversation with Patrick Lyons, President of Culture By Design, Inc., and Suzanne Hanifin, President & Founder of Acumen Executive Search. Patrick provides customized solutions for organizational alignment and performance improvement. He also hosts The Frustrated CEO Podcast, a weekly show that features candid conversations with CEOs and leaders who share their challenges, insights, and best practices. His mission is to bridge the gap between vision and execution, and to empower CEOs and their teams to create positive change in the world.

“…for the CEO, it’s culture as a competitive advantage….When you have a high performing organization, that’s a competitive advantage over the majority of companies that don’t have that. The higher performing you are, the more of a competitive advantage it is over companies that are not where you are.”

Patrick Lyons, President, Culture By Design, Inc.

Patrick Lyon’s Contact Information: Email | Phone: (319) 541-0488 | Website:

Acumen Executive Search, Portland, Oregon, is proud to present the Hiring For Good Podcasts and Profiles In Leadership. Follow Acumen Executive Search to be notified of new episodes.


Suzanne Hanifin: Well, hi there, I’m Suzanne Hanifin with Acumen Executive Search, and I’m so happy today to have Patrick Lyons from Culture by Design here with me today.

Patrick and I have known each other only for about 9 months when I was a guest on his podcast The Frustrated CEO. And if you have not watched it, I highly recommend it because it really does break down leadership and what makes the CEO stay up at night. But what makes Patrick such a unique consultant, because he is a consultant owning his own business, is that he really is that strategist that is able to operationalize and execute on that strategy with culture in mind, with people, with behaviors, and so when you combine the culture and the strategy into one, it’s a very powerful thing.

So, Patrick, welcome.

Patrick Lyons: Thank you. It’s so great to see you again and it’s nice to be on your show this time.

Suzanne Hanifin: Absolutely. And again, we started to really look at our podcast Hiring for Good and felt that there was one piece missing, and that’s because a lot of organizations and people really do reach out to the experts, as consultants. We wanted to get a different perspective than from the CEO, and you’ve seen so many different companies and have worked with a lot of CEOs, so when you look back what were those formative learnings from your background that you bring into the day to day?

Patrick Lyons: Absolutely. It’s a good question. And I guess when you’ve had careers as long as we’ve had and somebody asks about those formative experiences, it’s hard to narrow it down to the most important ones. What really shaped me as a young leader were a couple of mentors that I had early in my career who just invested in me. They understood that the difference between a manager and a leader is about showing up for your team uniquely and unlocking their potential. I often say that the difference between a manager and a leader is a manager shows up and says here’s who I am, and everybody has to adjust to me. Whereas a leader shows up and says I’ve got a bunch of different people on my team who are all different and unique and how do I need to show up differently for each of them to unlock and unleash whatever is there.

I had a couple of mentors, one very early in my career and then a little bit more in the mid-career who just invested, who saw a lot in me and encouraged me to lean into that. And I think that’s as relevant today in leadership as ever has been. You know absolutely senior leaders have the pressure of delivering results, they have the pressure of whether it’s top line revenue, bottom line profitability, but you can’t forget about the people aspect. You can’t get anything done without the people. That’s just such an important piece of it.

Suzanne HanifIn: And I think we’ve talked about this before, going way back to my consulting days, we used to talk about that three-legged stool. You have the people, the process, and the systems. You can see those leaders that focus on one of those other two areas, other than people and that stool falls. And so again, bringing in that culture, and that leaning into that, I Iove that.  

You’re right I’ve had a mentor, multiple mentors, that it wasn’t about them it was about again something greater and bigger, which really is such a lead in to the next question I wanted to ask – which is about your values and how do you bring that in and show up every day not just into your job but bigger, and into the community?

Patrick Lyons: As it’s very common when an organization has a founder, versus a CEO who wasn’t the original founder, I’d say the values of our company pretty much mirror the values that that are important to me. Which I always tell every founder if the values of the organization don’t align with yours, you’re going to struggle to come to work every day. You’re going to struggle to love what you do.

So for me those foundational values, I think like everyone we’re all I’m a work in progress, I  certainly have days and periods and seasons where I struggle in these – but, in every in every conversation and every engagement, the values that are most important to me, and therefore in our organization, first and foremost is authenticity. I say man what you see is what you get. I’m about as simple to figure out and read, at least I hope that’s the case, but authenticity and that you know for the longest time I can’t say that was necessarily admired in the in the corporate space. But you’re hearing and seeing, that GenZ they want authenticity almost above anything else.  So it’s good that that the business marketplace has caught up to this value that I’ve held for a really long time.

So, authenticity and trust is incredibly important when you’re doing executive coaching or working with an organization on removing some of their biggest obstacles. Trust is important, they need to know that they can trust you, that it’s a judgment free zone. So authenticity, trust, love, some people want to say care and concern.  I just always want to make sure that I’m moving from a place of love, that I’m honoring the person with whom I’m speaking or working.

Safety is the 4th and that is just being able to create a space where people can put whatever needs to be said out on the table. And again, no, it’s a judgement free zone. And then the last one is humor or fun. It does not always have to be hard, right?  Even when it’s hard we can still laugh. If it’s not fun, then I mean it just gets old really fast.

Suzanne Hanifin: Well and I you’re speaking my language when you talk about this alignment because we pride ourselves so much on that fit when we are out recruiting and it’s all about alignment of goals and values.

Patrick Lyons: Yes

Suzanne Hanifin: once there’s alignment then everything else falls into place doesn’t it?

Patrick Lyons:  It’s amazing. You know even the the best employee, whatever best means, even the best employee will struggle and fail when there’s misalignment between values and beliefs. And so to your point, if that’s why I’m such a fan of you and the work that you do, it actually supports the work that we’re doing, which is harnessing these high performing teams and cultures for the sake of execution, for the sake of winning, right, It’s we all want to win.  And when you hire the wrong fit, and they’re not bad people, they’re great people…. when there is misalignment between the person and the organization when that happens, It’s a struggle. It’s a challenge. They don’t feel enacted. They don’t feel like they fit. They know they don’t fit very often. And then the organization has to figure out what do we do with this. And so that’s my appeal. Don’t do that, call Suzanne and her team, right because they can make it easy, especially when you’re talking about a senior level position. It takes 12 to 18 months to disentangle from a cultural misfit and so getting that alignment of the values and the people is such a critical part of winning.

Suzanne Hanifin: We talked about your values, and because you’re out there working with such a diverse clientele on both projects and your involvement with the leaders in the organization. When you look at what makes a good leader, what are those qualities and characteristics, and why are these characteristics important.

Patrick Lyons: I mentioned authenticity already. I think that authenticity and empathy were always two critical leadership skills, but they became even more important through the pandemic. Now that the pandemic is over it doesn’t mean we can go back to being inauthentic and lacking empathy. As a friend of mine often says, that genie is not going back in the bottle.

Employees want authentic leaders who care about them, who they know can connect with them. I see this especially as you’re trying to attract and retain top talent, especially where top talent today is often in the younger generations. The greater technological knowledge in GenZ. These are the highly technical folks that you need, so a leadership trait to attract and retain those is you’ve got to be willing to challenge your own beliefs and your own assumptions. You’ve got to be open to new ideas.

We had someone on our show, actually he’s been on twice and we have him scheduled to come on a third time. His name is Ben Pring and he talks about Clive Davis, who has done this well. He (Clive Davis) is, want to say, in his 90s. And he’s still very relevant in the music industry today, and it’s because he surrounds himself with younger people that he listens to them, as opposed to telling them what’s good. He asks, he listens, and he receives. And so there’s a humility component to that, being willing to recognize I don’t know everything. There’s a safety component too, that you have to make it safe for people to tell you what you used to like isn’t really relevant anymore. What you used to think doesn’t work anymore. So those are some of the key characteristics that I think are really important in leadership today.

Suzanne Hanifin: Oh, absolutely. Again, you’re speaking kind of my love language on that. So I totally agree.

So this podcast is titled Hiring for Good, what does Hiring For Good mean to you?

Patrick Lyons: You know that I love that question. We were talking a couple of minutes ago about the alignment that happens, really that’s what you’re shooting for in an organization. I often say to a leader, think of your top performer. Think of the person who just embodies the best fit and they are your your A+ highest potential person. Now imagine that you have a whole organization of that right? What would be possible? What could you accomplish? And that requires hiring not just for skill but also hiring for fit.. I think hiring for good is when you combine the fit with somebody who can do the technical aspects of the job. With the fit, its does this person align with the vision of this company – I want to be part of something bigger than myself, I’m invested in what that is here. I align with the values. That is when you get a whole organization that aligns with the core values and the vision, and the mission in the organization. The commitment that what we hiring for good, hiring for exceptional, It’s hiring for winning.

Show me a team that wins a lot. Sports team, business team, and I’ll show you a team that is aligned to the overall vision, mission, direction, and culture of the company. I think when that magic happens,

Suzanne Hanifin: And that is exactly what you do. You go into organizations help with that strategy, which there’s a lot of people that can do that, but again, you take that execution and look at the culture and how do we bring everything together.

Patrick Lyons: Yeah, , I always feel like I have to explain it’s not culture for the sake of culture. it’s not culture for the sake of happy people. Like we love happy people, I love that. I love helping people love where they work and being happy. But for the leader, for the CEO, it’s culture as a competitive advantage. That’s what it is. When you have a high performing organization, that’s a competitive advantage over the majority of companies that don’t have that. The higher performing you are, the more of a competitive advantage it is over companies that are not where you are.

The three areas that we work in. Specifically, that create high performance organizations is 1, leadership development is the 2nd. It’s leadership development as a competitive advantage and then that primary place that we operate is in strategic alignment. So working with that senior executive team to not only create a strategic vision and plan, but to actually help them achieve alignment, which is very different than just create (the plan).

In the book, The Balance Scorecard, the author’s reference, 90% of organizations failed to execute their strategic plan. And what we’ve learned is it’s not because the plan wasn’t good. It’s not because they weren’t smart enough or didn’t have great people. It’s it always falls into one of those 3 buckets. Either they didn’t have that alignment at the top, they didn’t have strong leaders in the organization who could execute it, or they didn’t have a high-performance team that was willing to do the above and beyond work to execute the plan. To us it’s all about winning, helping an organization, everybody win, win, not win, lose.

Suzanne Hanifin: I know this is going to be kind of a hard question to answer because I think everybody is unique and different. But if there is one piece of advice you have to offer a CEO, I think everybody goes, I want to win. I want a high performing team. I want to go out there and climb Mount Everest. What’s the one piece of advice you would give a CEO?

Patrick Lyons: I love that you asked that question, because I know to this point we’ve been talking about culture. I’ll answer that question where I just ended and that’s on the critical role of strategic alignment. Good luck executing when your leadership team, when your senior executive team, isn’t on the same page and pulling in the same direction. Because even a crack at the leadership team level, becomes a fisher or a silo down at the bottom of the org chart. And so you can invest a lot in creating a great culture, but if you don’t have your leaders on the same page pulling in the same direction. understanding what alignment is and doing the hard work to get there, then you have this great culture. But it’s a resource you can’t leverage. It’s an untapped resource that you can’t leverage because you’re going to have differences of opinion among the that senior leadership team that is supposed to determine how to leverage it. how to use it. So man, if not to say give up on the culture stuff or the leadership stuff, that’s important. But you can invest in leadership development, you can invest in your culture. If you don’t get your leadership team on the same page, you will struggle to leverage any of that.

Suzanne Hanifin:  well and then I’m going to ask you the last question which you’re not prepared for. So for you who is your ideal client and why did he call you?

Patrick Lyons: Our ideal client is an organization in the 10 to 80 million dollar range I think anything below that probably doesn’t have the discretionary funds to bring in a resourse. And a lot of times when you get above that, an organization’s big enough they often bring people in house to do the kind of work that we do. But so that’s kind of the range. The industry, we’ve just learned, the industry really doesn’t matter. Really, if you’ve got people, you are going to have all of the challenges that come with collections of people, and where we excel. It is getting people to put the weapons down and come to the middle and find commonality and build those relationships at that senior leadership level. Build and develop those leaders in the organization who can then cascade that down, and get the team pulling in the same direction. So, I hope that answered the question?

Suzanne Hanifin: That’s fantastic. I lied, I said that was the last question, but I have one last question,

Patrick Lyons: Awesome.

Suzanne Hanifin: I said that that was my last question, but I’m going to ask one more. Looking back at your career, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Patrick Lyons: Oh boy that is a great question. I would tell my 20-year-old self, and this maybe goes back to the advice I would give a CEO, I would tell my 20-year-old self the importance of changing the sound track in my own head. This is a core belief for me that there is greatness inside every single human being on the planet. And more often than not, when that’s not coming out, I can speak for myself, and when I speak so many others agree, yeah, me too. When that greatness isn’t coming out, it’s not because other people are telling me telling me to hold it in. Not seeing it and owning it. Using it not with arrogance, but with humble confidence to show up and be a light in the darkness. That’s what a life of purpose really is. But I darn well can’t be anything less than I’m supposed to be, right?.. It’s about embracing who I am.  We’re all we all, we all have different experiences growing up, it took me a long time to be able to change the narrative in my own head, to fully embrace who I am. I will tell you when after doing that work, boy, there’s peace. There is where you begin to really like who you see in the mirror and you begin to get excited about the impact that you can make in the world.

Suzanne Hanifin: And I think it all just sums it up. That’s such powerful advice. Thank you so much, Patrick, for sharing your insights with us today.

Patrick Lyons: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Suzanne Hanifin: Again thank you,  Patrick Lyon’s with Culture By Design. Patrick’s contact information will be on the last slide. Be sure to follow Hiring for Good

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