What thoughts spring to mind when you hear the phrase ‘leadership culture’? The dictionary describes culture as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviours of a particular person, society, or group”. Culture pervades every aspect of our lives, and it's crucial in the business world.
I’ve recently been reflecting on what culture means in the context of organizations and the workplace, and particularly on organizational leadership culture. It quickly became clear to me that leadership stems from the roots of culture. Leadership culture touches on every aspect of an organization!
At the crux of organization leadership culture is what we like to call "human-centered" leadership. Leadership with authenticity, with empathy... it shapes company culture from the ground up.
The Complexity of Company Culture
Culture is a concept that, for many, is abstract. The origins of an individual's culture are shaped by a kaleidoscope of elements ranging from heritage to upbringing. The culture of a company is no less complex.
The complexity of company culture comes down to this: each individual that makes up a company brings their own cultural background to the table, each shaping the company's dynamics in some way. Without the input of organizational leadership, a company's culture is like a blank slate, or a bowl of ingredients that has not been mixed. It devolves into a constantly changing culture without direction.
The purpose of human-centered leadership, therefore, is to shape the company culture. Effective business leaders will create the cultural template that unique, individual employees can connect to. But how do you begin?
When Cultures Collide
Company culture is usually defined by a set of:
Each one of these elements combines to characterize the organization. You’ll generally hear the same common words used to describe company culture such as fun, collaborative, transparent, nurturing, supportive, and so on.
Companies may have great intentions for a healthy workplace culture, but many leaders within the company struggle to execute, maintain, and uphold the cultural goals. Take, for example, the topic of employee behavior. Employees are often asked to sign on the dotted line that they understand the behavior expected of them, but their poor behaviors are later overlooked because of a lack of accountability, process, and leadership.
Another common example of cultural conflict is in the area of collaboration. A collaborative culture requires deliberate and consistent action. It doesn't materialize by bringing people together once or twice a month. Collaborative growth is nurtured through regular and ongoing connection.
The greatest complexity in collaboration is when diversity of thinking is brought together. It can either nurture creativity and innovation, or result in conflict between individuals. The direction, however, is shaped by the organization leadership culture in almost every case.
Leading With Authenticity
Leading with authenticity and company culture are widely considered to be the key ingredients to the success of organizations. But how does this look for individual leaders? Leading with authenticity through the lens of culture in leadership includes a style that means leading with all of who you are and being aware of what that looks and sounds like to the people you interact with.
We know... this is easier said than done!
Leaders may find it difficult to be their authentic self without upsetting or offending someone, or coming across as too harsh or too soft. Even for leaders who find it easy to connect with employees, or have magnetic, charming personalities, the collision of cultures is a workplace challenge.
In some cultures, for example, it’s normal to speak loudly while in others it’s considered impolite. In some cultures, a female who is direct in her communication is considered confident or assertive, and in other cultures, this same female would be considered aggressive and lacking compassion. Cultural differences will shape employee perception of both leadership and each other.
The truly successful workplace culture is one where the organizational leadership forges an environment that allows for innovation, collaboration, and even authentic individuality, within the structure of its own culture, core values, and goals.
Developing Organizational Leadership Culture Through Self-Understanding
So how do you build successful multi-cultural teams and still maintain an articulated culture within the team that is acceptable and well understood by all? Textbook leadership styles have their uses, but the contemporary business leader must be more adaptable, consistent, and personalized in their approach to leadership. Understanding your own cultural context as a leader is the first step towards this goal.
For example, I consider myself multicultural. I'm of Iranian heritage (Persian as some still call it), born and raised in the UK. I have travelled around the world a lot, I have a diverse group of friends, I have worked in global organizations with highly diverse teams (diverse in culture, gender, and thinking). I have a set of values, customs, and behaviours that are unique to me through my upbringing, my life experiences, and my learned and inherited habits and biases, all of which have influenced how I approach life. Everyone, in their own context, experiences these cultural influences.
My strengths are also built on multicultural existence. My decision-making, the way I interact, my behaviors, and communication, are all shaped by my multicultural background. Having this context is key to knowing how I approach any opportunity or challenge that crosses my path.
Genuine Leadership Through the Lens of Culture
Genuine leadership through the lens of culture is, for me, a critical success factor for any leader (or any individual for that matter).
Creating the culture in a team and finding the proper balance in today’s working environment is no small undertaking. Once established, maintaining the culture then becomes the new goal. Being aware of the cultural context in which you operate is key to leadership success, then understanding the cultural context of others, i.e. your team members, is the ultimate recipe for a successful organizational leadership culture.
I like to think of culture as the additional player on a team (or maybe the first and most essential member!). It’s the additional team member because it too is unique to the team, it needs nurturing and development, it has its strengths and weaknesses, it needs to adapt to changing environments, and it is ultimately crucial for the greater good of the team.
As Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author, said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” So, which culture do you lead with when it comes to leading a team? In what cultural context are each of your team members operating?
This Blog was first published by Churchill Leadership Group
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marjan is a Certified StrengthsFinder™ Coach and 4 Stages™ Psychological Safety coach. With over 15 years of practical experience in leadership, business development and organisational change, Marjan is attentive to the fact that businesses have different needs as they evolve and the people are crucial to making that business transformation a success. Marjan is driven to support people develop so in addition to working with businesses, Marjan also works with individuals who wish to understand the impact of their culture. In doing so, they learn how their beliefs are contributing to or inhibiting their ability to achieve their goals and live their life aligned with their purpose and true identity.