It often amazes me how business leaders distance themselves from what is happening in their organization especially when it’s negative, unpopular, or toxic. Most leaders fail to realize what they contribute to making an environment what it is especially when it comes to the topic of culture.
One of my favorite quotes is from the book Execution, the discipline of getting things done by Ram Charan and Lawrence Bossidy.
The culture of an organization is as good as its leadership behaviour.
You cannot exclude or separate culture from leadership behavior, leadership behavior is not about the CEO, the board or the C-Suite. If you manage someone else, show the way to others, have a say in someone’s career or contribute to the direction of the organization or the implementation of that direction, consider yourself a leader…. and because you’re a leader, you affect the culture of the organization, the culture of your team, and the climate of those who work around you.
I know that there are times when people suddenly find themselves in a very negative or toxic environment, the question then is “How do you control the climate of your team, and your direct reports such that you can foster a positive culture that supports growth?”
You do this by being deliberate. In my experience, the following pointers can help you be a more deliberate leader in creating a positive employee experience:
Every organization has its vision and mission, but we also want to know what you stand for as a leader. What are you passionate about? What drives you? What are you working towards? Why do you come to work every day?
As a leader, it’s important to know the purpose of your work, but it’s even more important to share it with those who work with you. Let it come through in your meetings, and in your various engagements.
I remember once upon a time when speaking with a colleague; before he joined the organization, he had asked people about a few of the executives who would become his colleagues and leaders and had quite a bit to say about different people. I then asked, “What did you hear about me?” One of the things he said was “You tell it like it is… no mumbo-jumbo and you are sincere in finding solutions as best as you can.”
Does your reputation and personal brand as a leader speak of purposefulness? Is it clear to see what makes you tick and drives you as a person? People are constantly watching their leader’s every move and they know an authentic leader when they see one.
That is something that should come across in your engagement with subordinates and colleagues because people look up to people that have a purpose, they look up to people who stand for something.
Be personable and approachable
You may find yourself in a traditional organization where you have to book an appointment before you see the leaders of the organization, but how do you do that differently. Are you approachable? Can people walk into your office and say they have an issue?
Even if you tell them to book a time in your calendar, do you do it in a way that inspires confidence? Are you real and down to earth or do you have a chip on your shoulder? Can people talk to you about their problems at work and trust you to be real and give practical solutions? Are you open to having the tough but sensitive conversations and be empathetic at the same time?
When you have underperformers on your team or somebody that’s not pulling their weight, are you ready to dig deep to find out what may be the issue and get them needed help such as pairing them with a mentor or finding time to sit with them to put them through or even offering advice?
If you are confronted with something that is not within your area of expertise, then use your network, refer them to a coach, or an external resource, but by all means be real about You.
If you are real about what is possible and what is impossible, the situation around you and how you are dealing with it, managing change, and creating alternatives, people tend to respect you more, and by that, you are influencing the culture and creating a more conducive environment.
Pay attention to details
Recognize and notice the little things about people. Pay attention to the so-called “intangible” things about people. For instance, if a subordinate who is usually bubbly and smiling is suddenly laid back for two consecutive days; don’t act like you don’t notice. Find out what is going on.
If someone has not been around for a while, please make an effort to find out what is going on. One time, I asked about a colleague who I had not seen for a while, only to realize that she had lost a relative and could not come to work.
Pay attention to changes in attitude, to changes in faces around you, changes in outlook when you have a one on one conversation – which as a leader you should have often. It’s the time that your subordinates or team members have to come and be real with you in a safe space.
Pay attention when they are speaking, to their gestures, their tone of voice and facial expressions. Check your hunch as well and validate it, it may or may not be true but at least, put it out there. The good book says that “…little foxes spoil the vine…” It’s the little things that you must pay attention to because they are the ones that can make or break.
You may not be able to solve all the problems of the world but you can at least show you care. Paying attention goes a long way to shaping the culture and climate around you.
Plot your path
Be deliberate about how your abilities, skills, values, affect the culture of your organization, team, environment, and workspace. Have a path for how you’ll deliberately affect the culture.
It doesn’t have to be a complicated plan. For instance, once a week you might get a few people together to discuss a book that has affected you positively. If you are in a very fast-paced environment, you might not be able to build a calendar around it. In that case, it doesn’t have to be scheduled. You can spontaneously decide to share some wisdom or thoughts with them on the book you are reading now or a situation you learned from.
An executive that I know decided that to affect the culture of his team positively, he wanted to get to know his subordinates one on one. Over the course of a few weekends, he and his spouse would take each of them out to dinner with their partner/ spouses to get to know them on a more personal level. He deliberately plotted that path, and he executed it. Your guess is as good as mine as per the impact that would have had on the culture of his team.
So what is your plan, road map or chart for influencing the culture around you? Put pen to paper and write it down what you will do on a monthly, weekly or quarterly basis to positively affect the mindset of your team or organization.
As the C.E.O, you can sponsor a budget for managers to have a T.G.I.F (Thank God It’s Friday) meet with the team and take them out somewhere. Or on the annual women’s day, you can host a women’s networking event where all the women come together and share their stories on how far they have come, the skills that brought them there. You might not be able to influence the culture in your entire organization but how are you influencing the culture in your immediate environment? What can you include in your team calendar that will make a difference?
Dear leader, at the end of the day, you cannot remove yourself from the culture. Be purposeful, be personable, pay attention and plot your path.