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Why the behaviour of leadership matters when developing a resilient workplace culture

Being an effective leader means different things to different people, but achieving a resilient organisational culture will always depend on how much leadership recognises and manages its own behaviour and influence on other individuals.

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Whether leaders are aware of it or not, some ideas and styles of leadership can lead to undesirable behaviour and unwanted outcomes. A blinkered drive towards meeting organisational outcomes for success at all costs often ignores the importance of sustaining a happy and engaged workforce who genuinely want to come to work every day.

Organisational values go some way to mitigating this, but as some famous ‘fails’ show, making values explicit does not guarantee desirable behaviour.  For instance, while some companies such as Enron may have had admirable values, they also arguably had some appalling behaviour. The reason for this was the company lacked the key operating conditions to support behaviours consistent with their values. Leadership that focuses on outcomes and ignores the conditions necessary for desirable behaviour leaves the reputation and fate of the organisation to chance.  The culture, reputation and future of any organisation is inevitably shaped by the actions and behaviour employees believe to be crucial, rather than what the leadership might have expected or desired. 

In an environment where people are expected to do more with less, poor behaviour – particularly in organisations that focus only on performance outcomes, is almost guaranteed. When an employee’s behaviour falls below expectations, leaders’ attitudes influence how this issue is  addressed. If behaviour is not seen as being influenced by leadership then unwanted behaviour is viewed as ‘belonging’ to the person who demonstrates it. 

As a result, this sort of  employee behaviour is commonly addressed through training, personal development, coaching, or not at all. These approaches may address the symptoms of performance issues, but as they fail to look at the bigger picture and the underlying causes of the problem, results are often limited, as is the return on investment for these forms of interventions.

However, where leaders recognise the influence of leadership and operating conditions on behaviour, the issue is viewed  differently.  Leaders who focus on removing the causes are able to move towards a genuine investment in the future of the organisation and its culture. Behaviour is then recognised as a symptom of the influences of leadership expectations, operating conditions and the individual, all of which must be explored to establish the true cause and to find a solution. 

Solutions may try to make work situations less stressful or identify what is causing their people to disengage, before acting towards removing and reducing these environmental influences. The crucial difference to ‘traditional’ training or coaching is that these sorts of programmes are designed to facilitate a more resilient culture on a collective level. Habits, emotions and behavioural issues are addressed as a whole organisation rather than targeting a chosen few who are struggling or under-performing. 

The truth is, the behaviour of everyone within an organisation – from senior management to entry level roles – directly reflects the quality and ethos of its leadership. The habitual leadership behaviours seen on a daily basis are embedded unconsciously within organisational culture, directly shaping and impacting all aspects of performance management, which in turn affects both an organisation’s reputation and long-term success. It’s only with this understanding and a genuine commitment to change that leadership can be truly effective in developing a resilient and successful culture.

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