Shift Your Leadership Culture
You have plans. You see the big picture. You even know some of the steps to get there. You share this plan with your leaders. They love it. “Let’s DO it!”, you hear.
You are energized, ready to run ahead and get things going.
A few new rhythms are created, and people start working on your new plans.
Before long, unfortunately, you’re back to where you were before. Doing the same things you’ve always done. And so is everyone else. You check back with the team, and they say, “Yeah, I thought you were doing it! What are we supposed to do again?”
What’s the problem? It’s really a symptom of a leadership culture that is out of alignment. The solution is to shift your leadership culture.
Culture, as we’ve written about many times, comprises of the Values, Narrative and Behaviors of your organization.
The VALUES are what is most important to you, right now, in the near-term. NARRATIVE is the language you use to talk about your values, and the stories of people who have experienced the power of your values in their lives. The BEHAVIORS are those consistent actions you take that align with your values and the narrative.
That makes sense. But it can be frustrating because how do you make sure that your whole team – not just you, alone – focuses on the values, tells the stories and behaves (and takes action) in alignment with the values and stories?
Here’s how: create a shift in the organization’s leadership culture.
Unfortunately, too many organizations experience a mixed bag of priorities. Things that have to happen ‘right now’, or are just a continuation of ‘what we always do’. Occasionally something cool pops and we follow that thread for a while, too.
The result is that focus is unclear, and things just get complicated. And when things are complicated, people retreat into what they know best.
So how do we craft an intentional plan? One that gets executed?
Even as I remind you of the simplicity of an aligning Values, Narratives and Behaviors, it still feels overwhelming, doesn’t it?
You want to know what to do to simplify. And focus.
You need to know how to shift your leadership culture.
Have hope. There are specific steps you can take to start to shift your leadership culture.
The place to begin is by creating a healthy, productive leadership environment.
How do you create this environment?
Here are three specific action steps you can take:
Embody the values, narrative, and behaviors you want the rest of the organization to have.
As a leader, one thing we need is to limit the gap between ourselves and those we lead.
If you are out too far ahead of your team, they cannot follow you. If you are in the same place, or behind them, they certainly can’t follow you. If the culture you aspire to is just conceptual, no one will understand what to do.
What you need to do is live out the culture you want others to model.
Think about great leaders you know. There is a consistent, courageous pattern they embody of what they expect others to do. Here is the initial challenge: as you define the values, narrative, and behaviors you seek for your organization, make sure you model them first. I am amazed at how many leaders are frustrated at their organization’s unhealthy leadership culture, when they are not modeling a healthy culture themselves. If you’re not showing your team what a healthy leadership culture looks like, how will they know what to do?
Once you begin to embody the culture you desire,
Build a positive faction
That’s right; to shift your culture, it is important to create a faction within your organization. Webster defines a faction as a dissenting minority within a larger group.
I am not recommending that you create dissension as part of your leadership. No, it needs to be a positive faction. But, instead of trying to boil the ocean, get a small group of key leaders involved first.
Shifting your leadership culture can take a little energy, so don’t use it all up on vision casting and meeting with people who either don’t care or are opposed to change.
What if instead, you invested in individuals who also start to embody the change you want? This takes more time, but with influential people joining you, who embody the healthy productive culture, over time the faction creates positive momentum.
Who can join you in living out the top values of the organization you lead?
First we embody the culture we want, next we invest in people to build a positive faction and finally:
Make it safe for those you lead
Is it safe for people to shift their priorities, language, and actions? Will they be cared for and will they be celebrated as you make changes?
Let me share another definition we use of leadership: “Leadership is using your influence to bring about change.”
Change … think about why people resist change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what it means to their influence, role, or job. Fear of relevance. Fear of the new. Fear of loss. And on and on.
However, to shift your leadership culture, change is required.
Maybe the change is in what you value. Just defining values (and these can be as simple as near-term priorities) creates change.
Or, maybe the change is in what you do. Defining behaviors is also scary to people. Sometimes it means doing new things, sometimes it requires that we stop doing things we love to do.
Here is how make it safe for those you lead: Celebrate!
Celebrate everything. Celebrate whenever someone gets onboard. Celebrate every time anyone tries something new. Celebrate every time you win and celebrate every time that you don’t. Celebrate attempts, celebrate faith. Talk openly about what people try and what works. Don’t shy away from talking about what doesn’t work, just focus on the positive action of trying something new.
Make it OK for people to fail. As long as they try, failure is only one possible outcome, not the only one.
Here is what happens when you celebrate: people feel like they belong. And when they feel like they belong, people trust and feel safe.
When you create a safe environment, people will make the shift with you.
Want to shift your leadership culture? You can do it! Here’s how:
- Embody the culture you want – the values, narrative and behaviors you want others to have.
- Invest in people. Start building a small team of people who do it with you, that “positive faction”.
- Make it safe for those you lead to try new things. Create a safe environment where people belong, and will celebrate with you. Show off the great opportunity to be part of something that makes an amazing impact on your organization and in this world.
When your leadership culture shifts, you will have built a team that executes change.
Need some ideas on how to shift your leadership culture?