How Leaders Influence Culture – Part 1; Important Leadership Conversations

Last week we began examining the importance of organizational culture.  Now we begin exploring how leaders can influence culture.

Organizational culture begins to form as the founding leaders communicate their ideas, beliefs, values and views of the world to their companies.  Staff members adopt these ways of believing because they reinforce the success of the company.  Soon, the culture is firmly embedded in the shared assumptions of everyone within it.  A strong culture soon creates the leaders that will eventually replace the leaders that founded it.  As a result, the culture exerts great influence and is extremely powerful.

As a leader, you are responsible for managing the culture.  Culture is the domain of leadership, a distinct responsibility that is not found in the role of individual contributor.  Managing the culture is one of the primary mechanisms a leader needs to master to deliver outstanding results.  There are many mechanisms a leader can use to influence culture and as we will see, influencing culture is an art, not a science.

Sharing the Vision

Shared vision is often a topic of conversation raised by my clients.  I will ask how often the leader is communicating the shared vision of the organization to their staffs.  This is an important question because a primary role of leadership is to manage this message.  The message of “why we are here” and “what do we aspire to be”.  The shared vision of the organization guides the culture on how to respond to external threats as well as internal operating challenges.  The shared vision is a critical element of the strategy and if your staff cannot recite it, you need to begin reinforcing it with them now.

Other Critical Leadership Conversations

How often do you spend time getting to know your staff?  Learning about their dreams and personal goals.  As a leader, meet weekly with your direct reports.  Walk the hallways daily to chat with staff at all levels.  As a leader, this was the most important part of my day.  It’s where I learned about cultural concerns.  Leaders have become overwhelmed with the constant pace of change and this effective technique in influencing culture is used less frequently than it used to be.  Make time to informally meet with your staff and you will learn more about what is going on in your organization than you can possibly imagine.  One of the primary challenges of leadership is gaining access to the truth.  Engaging with your staffs on an informal regular basis allows this to happen.

Making the time to listen to your staffs and share the vision are foundational techniques in managing your corporate culture.   We will continue this conversation next week.