Painting a Beautiful Workplace Culture

By Paul Nunn

During the past few, I have created about 30 paintings. Mostly from watching video tutorials and painting along with the artist.

I’ve watched hundreds of painting tutorials from several artists. Starting with the GOAT, Bob Ross. The way artists create beautiful paintings is very similar to how great leaders create a beautiful workplace culture.

I should probably give you a little background first. A few months before the pandemic in 2020, I started watching Bob Ross’ “Joy of Painting” videos. I watched him create incredible landscapes time and time again. And he took the same approach for every painting: he started with a blank canvas, then a background, some mountains, some trees (happy little trees), and finally the details. So, when the world shut down, I decided to try my hand at it. I got my canvas, brushes, paints, followed along with Bob.

Even though my paintings never turned out exactly like the tutorials, I loved the process and I learned a little more each time I tried a new painting.

Creating a beautiful workplace culture has a lot of similarities. I’d love to share these with you.

The Training—I’m not a professional painter. I do practice, and I know that the more I practice the different painting skills, the better I’ll become.

As a leader, you’ve got to keep practicing. Get a coach. Read books. Watch videos. Attend training. Apply what you’ve learned.

The Canvas—I always start out with a blank canvas, of course. Every artist does. What goes on the painting comes from the vision of the artist.

The same concept applies to creating the culture of your bank. As a leader, you start with your vision. Your community bank is your blank canvas. There’s unlimited potential within your teams. It’s your job to share that vision with your team to create a beautiful workplace culture.

The Tools—I have about 25 different brushes; flat, round, filbert, liner, mop, and blending brushes. Each has its own purpose and can create incredible effects. One brush won’t do. You have to have several different brushes. And you have to take care of them. I’ve made the mistake of not washing my brushes and ruining them. Why keep buying new brushes, when I can just take care of the ones I have.

As leaders, your tools are your experience, your knowledge, your expertise, and your development. You don’t use the same leadership technique for everyone. You don’t use the same approach for every situation. Creating a beautiful workplace requires different techniques, tools, and approaches. And you have to take care of your tools.

The Paints—Aside from Black and White, There are three primary colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue. And with these five colors, the entire universe of colors are possible. I am still amazed how I can add just a tiny bit of blue to create a completely different color, creating a completely different effect. Painting with just one or two color gives you very limited options.

Your beautifully diverse and unique team members that make up your community bank are like the colors on your palette. Not just skin colors, of course. I’m talking about diverse views, experience, history, perspective, culture, gender, race, nationality, and everything in between. A beautiful workplace culture is one where everyone brings their own self, experience, history, opinions to work every single day.

As a leader, build your beautiful workplace culture like a painting:

  1. Your blank canvas holds your vision—I always start off a painting with a vision. I know what I want to see. But I’m okay with it changing as I go, too. But I have a vision. What does a beautiful workplace culture look like? What does it feel like? Imagine what it’s like when everyone feels safe. When everyone is allowed to share their perspectives. Where everyone believes in your vision and you believe in theirs.
  2. The background is trust—Most of my first paintings always started with a blend of blue and white for the sky. Everything is built upon that. I don’t start painting “happy little trees.” I start with a background to build upon. Trust is your background. Everything is built upon trust. It’s worth repeating: EVERYTHING is build upon TRUST. If you don’t have trust, you have nothing. Your team trusts you. You trust your team. Your team trusts each other. Your team trusts the vision and the process.
  3. The mountains and middle ground—Now the fun starts. When I started painting along with Bob, he would typically create the mountains next. And they always looked weird at first. Then they slowly started taking shape and I could see how the painting would start to take shape. The same goes with culture. As you start implementing open lines of communication, talking with team members, and asking for their input, you start seeing your vision of a beautiful culture take place. It’s not done, and there’s a long way to go, but if you keep sharing your vision of what you want your culture to be, and allow your team to be a part of it, you’ll see it start to take shape.
  4. Happy little trees—I love painting trees. There’s a lot of ways to create them. Once you paint your first tree, your painting begins to take depth. And I never use just one color. The prettiest trees are a blend of 3 or 4 colors on the same brush. It’s so cool. Your diverse team members need to add their unique flavors to the culture, too. Make sure they have input and help create the vision.
  5. The foreground and the details—Whether it’s painting grass, reflections on the water, a cabin, or just some snow on the fence posts, the details really make the painting come alive. When you’re creating your beautiful culture, the little things matter. Saying “I appreciate you” to a part-time employee who stayed longer to help finish a transaction. The manager who worked through lunch so her team could take their lunch. The employee who drove the loan documentation to a customer who couldn’t make it to the bank in time. Those are the little things, that, when appreciated and noticed, make all the difference in the world.
  6. Step back often—Have you ever watched an artist constantly step back, close one eye, and go back in to paint something again? They’re doing that to see how a small detail impacts the bigger picture. Leaders have to step back and, literally, “see the big picture.”? The best leaders are able to go back and forth between the big picture and the details. How do your actions impact the bigger picture? Even something as simple as a “thank you” from a leader can make a huge impact on your culture.
  7. Accidents—Every single painting I’ve created has mistakes, or “happy little accidents.” I have one painting that I almost threw out. I put it in the garage and I just forgot to throw it away. Then one day, I stopped and looked at it more. I decided to change the vision of what the painting would be and it is now one of my favorite paintings because it looks totally different. There’s even a smudge where my young son wanted to see if the paint was still wet (spoiler alert: it was still wet). I wasn’t mad at him, either. His spirit is in the painting and I love it. However, I don’t want him to always put his spirit into my paintings… The same goes for culture. There are going to be mistakes and accidents. It’s okay. You can always adjust as you go along. A great culture is one where everyone is allowed to make mistakes. That’s where you learn. And sometimes those mistakes turn into even better ideas.
  8. Perfectionism is dangerous—Don’t micromanage. Don’t constantly try to fix and perfect something. What makes a painting truly beautiful are the lines that aren’t quite perfect. I’ve messed up more than one painting trying to perfect something. I recently showed my painting to someone and, at first, they really loved it. Then I told them where I made all of the mistakes, and how I didn’t like the way I painted the clouds, for example. The other person told me “well, I didn’t see it until you said something.” Stop looking at your mistakes, where it didn’t turn out how you wanted. Step back. Look at the overall picture. Look at the overall culture. Are people engaged? Are they taking care of your customers? Are they sharing with each other? Are leaders coaching their employees? Great. Are there still improvements to be made? Sure. Just be careful that you’re stepping back enough to see the big picture. Make sure your team sees the big picture, too.

Finally, one thing I always loved about Bob Ross was how he made you feel. He always made you feel empowered. Statements like “You can do this.” He even said “if you’re holding a paint brush, you’re a painter.” He never said “you have to be perfect.”

Yes. You can do this. You can paint a beautiful workplace culture. If you’ve got a vision, put it on the canvas. Share it with your team. Never stop learning,

About the Author

Paul Nunn is the founder of Paul Nunn Training. Here’s one of his latest paintings:

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