“Culture is everything.” You hear this mantra everywhere — from small founders to massive corporations. But what does it actually mean? And how can we turn it into an actionable goal?
To answer these questions, the Kunik team sat down with Pete Bowen, the CEO of Giving Children Hope and a coach and consultant for attaining your high-performance life, leadership, and organizational culture.
He’s been in the game for 25 years and brings that expertise to Kunik’s partners — helping them implement high-trust environments that boost productivity and employee satisfaction.
During our conversation, Pete dove deep into:
Let’s dive in.
"As an individual, the more I put into my team, the more I develop my skill sets and the more I develop my character. If my teammates don't trust me, the team will fall apart. So, I've got to be honest, just, and wise."
The way Pete sees it, he's working with companies to “up their game.”
He lives and breathes his work. As a pilot in the Marine Corps, a Duke University professor, and an ethics officer at the L.A. Unified School District, he's always pushed his limits.
That's also his goal as a consultant.
He emphasizes to his clients: "If you up your game and take care of underlying issues, a lot of the pain points go away."
He deals with systemic issues at companies, such as hiring and retaining talent, as well as individual problems, such as leaders’ relationships with subordinates.
To do so, he sets underlying frameworks that center two things:
Pete calls this overall strategy the covenant leadership framework.
Most companies revolve around transactional relationships — both with their customers and between their employees.
The issue is that those transactional relationships are, by nature, very low-trust.
With this, Pete aims to help teams realize that deeper relationships can exist in the workplace and that higher levels of trust and commitment lead to stronger performances.
By shifting this mindset, he and his clients can prevent 95% of problems from occurring in the first place and provide a reliable framework for solving any problems that do crop up.
"If you understand that there are relationships beyond the transactional ones, that workplace relationships can be much deeper and get much more commitment, you can truly engage in them. I'm talking about high-trust relationships that actually produce higher-performing teams."
Pete frames trust on a personal level: When he was landing AV-8B Harriers on aircraft carriers, he had to have absolute faith in everyone involved.
His life was literally in the hands of people he’d never met — and there was no room for error.
But they met their objective every time because of his implicit trust in the people operating the cables that caught the plane. They had that same trust in him, as they trusted he wouldn’t mess up his landing.
That sort of trust isn't based on money. It's based purely on caring about your teammates.
When you bring that kind of trust into a traditional work environment, it yields higher recruitment and retention, eases friction, and minimizes HR issues and risk.
Founders and companies need to understand that the good of the individual and the interests of the team are the same.
Unfortunately, the standard protocol for businesses has been to conduct transactional relationships. That creates an automatic win-lose situation:
When those impulses rule, companies can't optimize.
However, when they create win-win situations — meaning, when what's good for the individual is also what’s good for the team — companies, employees, and society alike benefit.
“If you try to address the one-off problems without understanding the underlying causes, you’re playing Whac-A-Mole. Most of the time, the underlying problem is that you have low-trust relationships. And all of these negatives flow out of that.”
Kunik typically utilizes Pete's expertise when a company's leadership wants to improve performance and tackle the issues weighing them down as a team.
Pete is always intent on digging deeper, asking the central question of: "What's the underlying culture problem creating these issues?" When you don’t address those deeper snags, new problems will only keep cropping up.
In this vein, Pete pushes for seeking wisdom and practicing love.
Both of these practices help you build high-trust interpersonal relationships and become a better person, which in turn betters your work environment.
Ultimately, Pete works with Kunik because: “They’re a genuinely good group of people.”
In his experience, the Kunik team’s primary motivation is to become better parents, friends, and business leaders by working together and helping other orgs do the same. He sees the Kunik team growing together, actively nurturing relationships, and bringing wisdom to others.
That’s why Pete believes in the Kunik project and loves being around people like that.
"The Kunik team is just doing really great things by practicing love and bringing wisdom to others. I'm a part of this because I believe in their project and in them."