Those who know me well, in a professional sense at least, know that I’m a bit of a “culture nerd”. I’ve always been curious about what makes some workplaces “work” (that is, where people understand what they are responsible for, they accept that responsibility, they get on well and get on with the job), and other workplaces fail (where, for example, politics and individual agendas often take centre-stage, there’s frequent conflict/tension, responsibility is best avoided and people seem to be pulling in opposite directions). While these are massive simplifications, it’s hopefully sufficient to give you some idea about what I’m on about….
This long-standing curiosity has directed my formal and informal studies and also my career, to the point that much of our work is about partnering with clients to create and sustain engaging, productive workplaces that drive business success. An absolutely critical part of this is helping clients to understand the current culture of their workplance and potentially guide it in a more constructive, positive direction which ultimately benefits all: workplace participants, leaders, customers/clients and other stakeholders.
So I’ve been at it a while now, and one of the fundamental learnings I’ve picked up along the way, and which continues to be reinforced just about each and every day, is the significance of the impact of the behaviour of leaders in driving cultural outcomes. The most successful leaders in my experience understand the power and potential impact of their behaviours, and ensure that their behaviours are consistently working toward and maintaining constructive workplace cultures. On the other hand, the leaders that really seem to struggle are those who either significantly underestimate the impact of their behaviours in terms of determining workplace culture, or appear to adopt a position of “it’s my business, if they don’t like it, they can move on” (or perhaps stronger words to that effect!).
One of my favourite writers on the subject of culture is Carolyn Taylor. Carolyn’s writing consistently reinforces the link between individual leader behaviour and culture. Indeed, the title of her key work “Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success” (Random House, 2015), is I suggest an acknowledgement of the author to the significance of the impact of leaders’ behaviour on workplaces. Consider the following table presented in her book:
|Leader Behaviour||Culture produced|
|Humility, being willing to admit mistakes||Openness, learning|
|Seeking out and listening to the views of the front line||Customer focus|
|Asking for and following up on commitments||Accountability|
|Saying no, and taking no for an answer||Discipline, control of risk|
|Accepting justifications for non-performance||Avoidance|
|Favouring one person over others for reasons not based on performance||Politics|
|Shooting the messenger||Cover-ups|
We could of course extend this table, almost endlessly. I’ve long held the view (as many of my leadership coaching clients will know!) that “Every action you take as a leader sends others a signal about what you need/value/expect”, and will generally over time stimulate/direct the behaviour of others. This also applies to some extent to the actions you don’t take. If you don’t talk about and hold people accountable for financial performance, people won’t focus on financial performance. If you seek and genuinely listen to and consider the input of your team, they’ll be encouraged to contribute constructively and come up with ideas that could well help improve the business. If you don’t seek input or dismiss suggestions provided, they’ll sure enough stop contributing ideas or even thinking about opportunities for improvement.
Being a leader can be tough, but there’s no question that getting your workplace culture right add significant benefit in the longer term. It’s an absolutely worthwhile investment, and it starts with YOU.