Edgar Schein, noted guru on leadership culture, makes this statement,
I believe that cultures begin with leaders who impose their own values and assumptions on a group. If that group is successful and the assumptions come to be taken for granted, we then have a culture that will define for later generations of members what kinds of leadership are acceptable. The culture now defines the leadership.
Schein goes on to define culture as,
A pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as te correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.
Leaders are always creating culture whether they are aware of it or not. They can be intentional in their efforts or very blase. But the culture they create will ultimately define their success and sustainability.
The leadership culture that is created can be one of pragmatism, silos, revolving doors, and always urgent.
Or it can be a culture of constant learning, collaboration, retention, and future focused.
The for-profit organization and the not-for-profit organization are both susceptible to the benefits and detriments of leadership culture. The corporation or the church can both benefit from a leadership culture assessment.
Here are five culture elements I believe will make a positive difference in the long run:
1. A pattern of development over “best hires.”
Some entities keep trying to hire the very best people, hoping that the next hire will be the last hire. In other words, don’t hire someone who might need to get better. That is a completely false assumption–and a deadly one. Leaders can always grow and improve. A culture of leader development is always necessary to improve the organization and mark progress towards its mission. A pattern of development will always trump a “best hire” mentality. A “best hire” mentality will only lead to a revolving door of under-developed talent. Be intentional about a common and customized approach to leader development.
2. A pattern of learning over hiding.
Most learning comes via failing. Yet, if emerging leaders are not allowed to fail they will never learn. If failure is seen as a negative trait, hiding failure will become the norm. We must create a culture of trying and failing if we are to ultimately succeed and learn. Learning incorporates individual evaluation, team evaluation, and organizational evaluation.
3. A pattern of shared leadership over a heroic model.
Emerging leaders need a level of ownership to contribute their best efforts. If emerging leaders are always left out of the decision-making process they will give you their marginal time and minimal effort. Shared leadership allows each person to contribute their best. Shared leadership taps into a team mentality that sees every person with potential. The heroic model is outdated and too near-sighted to be able to adapt to the fast pace of change encountering every organization int he 21st century.
4. A pattern of generosity over hoarding.
The culture that freely shares information, resources, and talent in a spirit of collaboration will be seen as generous. This type of cultural element transcends silos, internal competition, and selfish advancement. Generosity begins with transparency and open communication. Internal communication is just as important as the organization’s brand and external face–maybe more so. Hoarding of resources and key information begins when there is a mindset of scarcity versus abundance. If the pie is only so big, then there is only so much to go around.
5. A pattern of safe feedback over new narratives.
A good leadership culture in any organization must include good feedback loops at all levels. Those at the top of the leadership structure must invite and be open to feedback on their personal leadership. Feedback about organizational systems, decision-making processes, and information flow must be encouraged. If a safe feedback does not exist, followers will be reluctant to speak up for the good of the organization and leaders will work hard to change the narrative of why something failed.
The leadership that adheres to these five elements will create a culture that will be sustainable, able to solve current and future problems, and adapt to ever-changing realities. Servant leadership is best suited to meet these needs. Choose daily to create the leadership culture that you want.