It’s been said many times what you allow to happen you also non-directly are supporting. That becomes a sobering statement for a leader to consider. A good leader will have a set of aspirational values and habits they want to model and encourage. It’s natural to devise a strategy to do so. What most don’t think about beyond what one is looking to make happen as far as behaviors and values is a whole set of non-intended behaviors and values. These creep into either a vacuum where specific expectations may not have been laid out or out of one’s observation of what types of behaviors beyond the defined “good” ones are also tolerated. If someone or something, even if it is outside of the expected values, is allowed to go on without being address then it eventually becomes understood to be an acceptable practice. What isn’t addressed becomes organizational culture.
This is a challenge for any team leader or organizational leader. One can’t be expected to know everything that happens in an organizational culture nor create a strategy guide for how to deal with every possible relational and work outcome within a team of people. What a leader can do is be cognizant of how their behaviors align with both the stated values of the organization as well as the behaviors they want to see have value in the culture. As a person of influence other team members will watch what a leader does and, possibly more importantly, what they don’t do for cues in how they are supposed to act. Here are a few ways a leader can model behaviors which will lead to desired organizational culture outcomes.
- Consistent Feedback: A strong leader must take on a coach mentality. A “boss” may simply just care that the needed work is being done. A coaching supervisor is not just making sure the work is getting done. A coaching supervisor isn’t even simply just thinking about how to make it better. A coaching supervisor is actively and intentionally training and equipping team members to think about and act upon ways to improve the work and align more tightly with the mission. How this happens is through what a leader gives in feedback, both positive and critical. It’s easy to think that organizational culture is shaped by positive feedback, however, the way a leader must think about it is what behaviors are they allowing by not addressing improvements? It’s easier to give the good word but a truly influential leader also realizes that shortcomings left unaddressed are shortcomings which they are tacitly approving.
- Investing in Strong Team Members: How is the team thinking about how they invest in team members who have high potential? Is it just limited to sending them to a conference? Getting them some online training? Really investing in a team member is more than third party equipping. The best translators of understanding the work, how to best accomplish it, and how the desired values are integrated comes from trusted team members. How willing is the leader to set aside a lunch or coffee time to hear from those who are not direct reports? How well is the leader connecting both those who need to be investing in others and those who need investments to the internal team members who can help? Good practices here serve to deeply ingrain a philosophy of open sharing of intellectual resources among the team ultimately helping to curb politics and turfism. By not directing actions to close some of the loops a leader is ultimately allowing damaging silos to be formed.
- Talking About the Future: Is the preponderance of office talk in the organization about what has happened in the past, what’s happening now, or what’s happening in the future? This is another place where an influential leader can set the tone. Talk of the past has little place in the work culture. Victories should be celebrated and mistakes should be evaluated with solutions implemented. Dwelling in the past risks either setting up dissatisfaction with the current because things aren’t as good as they were or a shame culture that becomes afraid to take chances and become the next case study. Some talk on the current state is certainly needed and useful as the group moves toward solutions. How much of the talk is about the future? If a leader doesn’t hear enough excitement and passion around where the organization is going then chances are they are not talking about it enough. The leader must keep an intentional focus on what is coming. Most of the team doesn’t have the context to engage in this so their default will be to look backward. By not talking about the future a leader could be accidentally setting into place a culture that dwells too much in either the past glories or the past failures of the organizations.
There’s a reason why people often say leadership is hard. Often, it’s not the leading part that’s the larger challenge. There are many great strategies to help shape these practices. The influence aspect of leading is often the tougher side of the equation. Influence is challenging because it extends to both what ones says and what one doesn’t as well as what one acts upon and what one doesn’t. It’s challenging enough to cover the bases of what one knows they need to be doing but trying to keep in mind the outcomes of what one is also not doing can seem overwhelming. Frankly, no one is going to be perfect at this. However, a strong start is a simple orientation around the fact that what one does not speak to as a part of their influence has at least as many implications as what they do choose to speak into.