You’ve probably heard the phrase’ leadership defines culture‘ especially if you have read any of the articles i have written about culture. Today I wanted to go a little further and talk about 3 different ways leadership defines culture, because when you know and understand this, then you can be mindful of your actions and how you impact culture.
Who You Promote
If leadership defines culture, then who you promote into leadership positions has a definite impact on culture too, and it does this in two different ways.
First, when you promote someone you are confirming to them that their style and approach is the right approach and this will empower them to be bolder and for their actions to a larger impact on the culture, and if their actions and values are not aligned, then this can disrupt the desired culture you are trying to create.
Secondly, when you promote someone this is a signal to others as to the kind of person and behaviours that you value, and that if they want to be a leader, or be in a leadership position then they should copy them and treat them as a role model.
This is one of the ways that toxic culture arises, if you promote someone who has bad habits/values, such as lying, blaming, or bullying, then this will encourage others to act in the same way as this is what is believed is needed to get along in the company.
Companies that want to create a strong culture need to promote people who live, sleep and breath the culture.
What You Condone
Just as much as the actions you take, the things you don’t do or say can have a huge impact on culture. Especially, if you don’t call out behaviour that is unacceptable or that is counter to your desired culture. If you say nothing when you see these deviations, you’re not just seen as tolerating it but condoning it.
If you see someone being sexist, racist, bullying, or acting inappropriate in any way you have to call it out. If you don’t you will allow it to fester and grow. Silence is not a third option, you can only condemn or condone it, and if you don’t you’re saying that it’s acceptable.
I worked for a company where one of our goals was to increase the number of women and over a five-year period, it went from 20% to 21%. Although our goal was to be a more inclusive company, our boss repeatedly allowed qualified women to be overlooked and for men to be put into key positions. By not saying anything about this, he was silently condoning the actions, and at times it was a toss-up as to who was the best candidate but by constantly letting male managers choose men for these roles, it even encouraged people to overlook even better qualified female candidates.
What You Recognise
What get’s recognised gets repeated, so it’s important to ensure that you recognise the right behaviours, the right achievements, those that are aligned to both your vision and your culture. If you recognise the wrong behaviours again this a message to everyone, that whilst culture is important, results are more important.
Two years ago I saw a great example of this when my football team Leeds United scored a goal when a player was down injured and the opponent thought we would kick the ball out of play. We didn’t and we went on to score. Our manager Marcel Bielsa who is a huge advocate of playing football the right way, playing attacking football-playing fair was livid. He insisted that Leeds let the opponents scored unimpeded from the restart. Many managers would have celebrated the goal, a little embarrassed they would have talked it off, found some excuse. But Bielsa, who refused to celebrate and who insisted that the situation be reversed reinforced the culture he was trying to instill into his team.
Leadership does define culture and it does this in many ways, most think it’s about living the culture, but that also means promoting people who are role models of the culture, calling out any digressions against the culture as well as celebrating and recognizing great examples of people living the culture. If you can do these three things you will help accelerate the growth of the culture you are looking to embed and help to make it sustainable.