The way you lead dictates the culture of your organisation – here’s why

Culture is shaped by the actions of leaders, therefore how you lead, becomes the culture of your organisation itself, says Leanne Hamley

Culture and leadership are intrinsically linked: the salt to the pepper, the fish to the chips. Quite simply, you cannot have one without the other.

Culture is shaped by the actions of leaders, therefore how you lead, becomes the culture itself. Yet so many leaders are still unaware that their congruent actions to the organisational culture will influence and accelerate the modelling of the behaviours throughout the business. Whilst incongruent actions will play into an entirely new field, the desired culture unattainable due to leadership contradictions, leaving employees not knowing which behaviours to emulate and which ones to not.

During the past 18 months we became observers of the largest universal challenge organisations faced, the pandemic shone light on the leaders of organisations whose culture was built to weather the Covid-19 storm; the organisations who can demonstrate not only that they survived but how their leadership and the culture has positively impacted their people and their bottom line.

During this time employees have had time to reflect on how they were treated, how the culture of their own organisation faired, while watching their organisation grow or suffer.

These reflections turned into considerations such as ‘Where do I want to work?’ ‘What leaders do I trust?’ ‘Is the purpose of the organisation aligned to my personal values?’ ‘And what does work now mean to me?’

In turn, these considerations were magnified by employees’ personal experiences of how they were managed; the level of empathy shown by their leader; the decisions that were made; and the level of transparency being demonstrated now around the recovery plan.

Finding the opportunities

Culture has never had so much weight as it does now. Albert Einstein said: ‘In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.’

This is the time for leaders of organisations to decide consciously what the culture needs to be in order to future proof the organisation. They also need to define which behaviours need to be demonstrated to make that culture happen.

As forementioned, leadership and culture are intrinsically linked, leadership styles have evolved considerably, situational leadership shifted to transformational leadership and now the recognised leap into emotional leadership a critical style considering Covid-19. The leaders who recognise that the product or service, is merely the ‘what’ and that culture is the ‘how’.

These are the leaders who know the key ingredient in organisational success now depends on consciously creating a culture where the ‘how’ becomes of equal if not greater importance.

Leaders who recognise in themselves that they are ‘the cultural enabler’, align the ethos, purpose, and behaviours of the team to the organisations desired culture. The culture which will create the aspirational business.

the cultural enabler has several leadership skills, however for ease and simplicity I have identified this as ‘own it, deal with it and create it’.

Own it

These are the leaders who not only know the values of the organisation, but they own them, they have shared the values with their peers and explored what these values mean, they have debated their merit and the actions each of the values impose.

They have asked the question; how do we want to see these values played out? With debate and consensus comes alignment. Alignment in action provides the employees with reassurance that what is expected is modelled and trust established.

This is further mirrored in areas such as reward and recognition, the leader who understands the action they reward will become the culture itself, they are aware that if they recognise targets, over ethics, then the boundary of ethics is blurred. These are the leaders who know their people, they have asked their employees what motivates them, what demotivates them and how they want to be rewarded and recognised, then they flex their style to get the most out of them.

Deal with it

What isn’t challenged becomes the culture. When behaviour is played out in the organisation that is misaligned to the aspirational culture and then what isn’t challenged becomes the acceptable form and a challenging culture will develop. Particularly if the new acceptable culture is to turn a blind eye to those generating the revenue but will no moral consideration. It only demonstrates that the moral compass can be ignored, money is king and that the boundaries in place aren’t for all.

Create it

All leaders create an environment, there are those who despite the culture take it into their own hands and create a subculture, an environment that is about their people and for their people. They understand leadership isn’t to have all the answers but to create a platform for greatness to occur. They work with their team establishing how they want to interact, what works best for them, how they can feel safe in decision making and how best they create an environment that inspires innovation.

There are organisations who have done this incredibly well, the environment created to ensure everyone thrives, aligned leaders who understand how and why the culture is shaped this way and they perform because of it. These are the organisations who stand apart from the rest, the gap between great and good widening all the time and where people are fighting to get in and not out.

Leaders who aspire to create an environment where the purpose of communication is to create connection through their words and actions. Connection with the here and now to the greater purpose, connection within the team and with the wider team, connection to the product or service and connection to the customers. They are the leaders who understand in a world of technology, communication and human connection is our differentiator. They see the need to create a sense of belonging for their team and the platform for communication to be two way built on trust and transparency. Leaders who are listening to their employees in equal measure to how they expect to be listened.

It only takes one misaligned action of a leader to make your employees question the culture, to disbelieve or mock the values on the wall. To build an aspirational culture, then simplicity in the approach should be taken: ‘own it, deal with it and create it.’

Decide consciously what behaviours would make that happen and then work with the leaders to ensure that they are working in the aligned manner. Leaders are the cultural power players, the enablers to cultural hedonism, and the magic key to how cultures can develop.

Leanne Hamley is an experienced leader and business coach specialising in behavioural change, leadership development and organisational culture. She is the author of The Golden Thread (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2021).

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