These days we don't have to look far for articles on how to positively affect workplace culture. The founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, was once asked by an employee if they could serve sandwiches on their flights. He responded by asking if that would help them become THE low-cost airlines in the industry? It didn't so they don't! Every great leader believes their leadership can make a difference in their organization & helps keep everyone focused on their vision of what that looks like. The bottom line is...Does YOUR leadership have a positive impact on organizational culture?
First, we need to bring awareness to the influence you can have. In his Ted Talk, Drew Dudley asks how many of us aren't comfortable calling ourselves leaders? Why not? He says we've made leadership into something maybe someday we'll deserve but every day we do amazing things that make us leaders. It's possible these impactful moments can change someone's life & we won't even be aware of them. In contrast, bad drivers aren't aware of the negative impact they're having on those around them. It's not that they have some sort of moral defect it's just they don't have the awareness of it in those moments.
We have to allow ourselves to embrace these powerful & influential moments. Drew also adds that we're willing to celebrate birthdays where all we have to do is not die for 365 days but we don't allow ourselves to celebrate all the good we do. So, how do we get focused on the massive potential our leadership can have?
Jordan B. Peterson gives us the global leadership formula. If our life expectancy is about 30,000 days (80 years) we are likely to have the opportunity to know about 1,000 people. If those 1,000 people each know 1,000 people then we're up to 1,000,000. If those 1,000,000 people each know 1,000 people then we're up to 1,000,000,000! There are only about 7.5 Billion people on the planet so in just 3 steps our influence can have a massive reach. The ripple effect either supports a healthy culture or detracts from it, like the bad driver. Here are some thoughts on how we can connect our leadership influence to a positive culture.
WHAT'S REWARDED IS REPEATED
We have perfectly organized to create the behavior we are experiencing. What are the systems & processes we have in place that are driving these behaviors? This goes deeper than what gets measured gets accomplished; it deals with removing negative barriers to performance & connecting with the intrinsic social drivers for success. It's also supported by our recognition/evaluation programs & how we manage them. Do they encourage a growth mindset through effective coaching or a fixed mindset focused on continuity? Leadership is doing the right things, management is doing things right so the key is to reward the right things. A great example of this is Chick-fil-A. Do they have better people? Of course not, they have access to the same employees any other company has. It's their chosen culture that supports the environment of the people in it. They are clear about their values, realize them through their actions & we feel it each time we interact with any member of their team. They know unequivocally you can't grow good grass without good soil!
Colin Powell says he learned everything he knows about leadership from a crusty old sergeant while he was in infantry school as a lieutenant. This is my go-to example & is worth repeating for sure! He was asked in an interview at the White House many years after that experience "how do you define key characteristics of effective leadership that allow you to be an advocate for good?" Before they could even finish the question he quickly answers "trust"! He continues to explain the sergeant tells him that he'll know he's a good leader when people follow him if only out of curiosity. He says it's the best definition he's ever heard because what it says is that they trust him. They'll follow you up the steepest mountain & around the darkest corner because they know you'll get them through it together. Regardless of the situation, the trust you earn will carry you through it. The environment you create around you matters & matters a lot!
We know people tend to leave bad leadership, not companies. It's the "death by 1,000 papercuts" syndrome. Again, these bosses (probably) don't have some moral defect they just don't have awareness of how their actions are affecting others. You have the right to "feel" safe at work, safe enough to bring your whole self every day! If you find yourself coping just to "be" safe it's time to figure out why. Leader might be your title but your leadership is defined by your behaviors!
Another great tool that can positively affect the culture, especially on teams, is the concept of complaints going up. There's a great scene in the movie "Saving Private Ryan" that's a great example of this. The squad is trekking through the countryside & one of the members begins to complain about their mission. He states that he doesn't understand why they are all risking their lives to save one guy. This doesn't rattle Tom Hanks character & this makes the other guys wonder if he agrees with the mission or not. Another member says he has thoughts on their situation & Tom Hanks character encourages him to continue with his thoughts. By hearing the member out Tom Hanks character is asked about his opinions on their situation. He responds by saying he doesn't gripe to them he complains to his superiors & up it goes.
No matter the organization structure, people have different responsibilities & need to have communication channels open. Everyone has their own meaning they bring to work. Gripes soften as they go up but in a positive culture, it's everyone's responsibility to communicate how things are going. Package your thoughts with a solution, present it tactfully & keep moving forward!
A high percentage of companies suffer the same fate...they go out of business. While the one you work for may not, your ability to create winning teams, design systems & processes for manageable growth & create a learning environment are all keys to collective success. Successful leaders know you can't manage a team into battle you must lead them. The goal is to inspire a positive culture & nurture a culture of leadership!