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Can You Lead A Culture Change?

Culture, culture, culture. There may be no word more frequently uttered at the leadership level yet so few leaders actually understand it. It’s true. As we discussed in one of my recent posts, practically every new CEO fancies himself or herself an expert on culture change. Are they? Not exactly.

If you’re sure you’ve got what it takes to make such transformative change, our Leadership Self-Assessment will be of interest. It takes five minutes and it’s free.

As we examine this key attribute for success, let’s take a look at a hypothetical contrast of a Leader With Courage (Sharon) putting her best foot forward on culture change and The Pretender (Carl) who is never going to get it and will be out within 18 months.

In my view, there are at least 4 key areas that have to be exhibited in a leader who wants to make a difference in an organizational culture:

#1: You Exhibit The Change You Want To See

This is truly what “leading by example” is all about and in every last detail. In the first few months on the job as CEO, all eyes will be on you. Are you ready to be a visible role model for the culture? Let’s see how our two leaders fare.

Leader With Courage: Sharon knows that her employees and peers will be listening to her approach and how she carries herself. The way she attacks the day is consistent, from communicating the mission of the organization with clarity but also her general behavior. She’s on time, she has an agenda with each meeting and she has a warm tone that invites feedback and collaboration of ideas.

The Pretender: Carl thinks people should get on board because he’s the boss. He doesn’t have the time to figure them out. They have to figure him out. Besides, what he did at his old firm speaks for itself, so he’s going to do things the way he wants it, when he wants it. Sometimes he’s on time for meetings, sometimes he’s not. He’s also not always prepared with notes or remarks to frame the conversation for the group. And his tone is often aggressive to the point of where he can be a bully in the boardroom.

#2: You Love To Tackle What’s Tough

You can see a problem as just that – one more headache to address – or you can see it as an opportunity to reframe the issue. Why does this problem keep popping up? Maybe there’s a reason for that and it’s time to meet it head on. Real leaders look forward to taking action so they can right the ship in strategic ways.

Leader With Courage: Sharon finds that there are a lot of people in her organization who have terrific ideas and plans – they just happen to pass like ships in the night because there hasn’t been a great avenue for them to connect before. So she’s working on a more fluid way to break down the walls between departments and strengthen tools like the company’s Intranet to encourage information sharing.

The Pretender: Carl knows there’s a problem in his company culture – several of them, actually. Some are related to procedures and others related to people. He knows that this “elephant in the room” isn’t going away anytime soon, but he can’t prioritize challenges well enough. Plus, dealing with tough cultural issues keeps getting pushed off to next month after some other important initiative is off his plate. The reality? He’s never going to deal with it because there will always be something that Carl conveniently deems more important.

#3: You’re Dissatisfied With Satisfaction

If everything was perfect, the company might not need a new CEO, right? But they certainly do. They need a leader who will see themselves as the enemy of the status quo and more importantly, a person with the courage to challenge the stale thinking that “the way it’s always been” is acceptable.

Leader With Courage: Sharon finds plenty at fault with the status quo of the organization but she understands that the “bull in a china shop” approach won’t work well here. She asks thoughtful questions in meetings and open forums that show people she isn’t afraid to test prevailing assumptions as well as try new ideas. Within reason, she’ll show displeasure with anyone who thinks good enough is, well, good enough.

The Pretender: Carl will challenge a lot of the current beliefs and mindsets. That’s good. What he’ll never challenge are any of his own thoughts and opinions. That’s bad. He wants to make change but sees himself as someone who can do no wrong due to his oversized ego. Not only is that unrealistic but it’s quickly rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. They dub him “Mr. Perfect” behind his back and he’s not seen as a person who can relate to others. It’s going to be that much harder to get things done.

#4: You Keep Things Simple For Everyone

Quantity of ideas isn’t the point. Having a finite number of objectives, goals and strategies for the team to be laser-focused on is the mark of a true leader. If you have fewer, stronger arrows in your quiver, you can aim for the kind of initiatives you’re passionate about instead of letting yourself be distracted by every idea and opportunity that arises.

Leader With Courage: Sharon knows some of the past leaders of her organization have failed in part because of their inability to simplify. So she’s honing in on a select number of initiatives that she believes can be huge for the company. While she’ll plan quickly, her long-term view is to implement these objectives for at least the next three years if they prove successful.

The Pretender: Carl is a giant fan of getting as many ideas on the table as possible with a lot of meetings to do it. He doesn’t have clear agendas with many of these meetings, so they become unfocused in direction. Worst of all, Carl thinks this is some kind of collaboration that’s helpful to the culture – which would be true if anyone knew how he was using the sessions and if any ideas from it are used for objectives. But they can’t see that, so some people are losing interest and motivation, even viewing such meetings as taking away from their “real” work.

When you bring these qualities to the table, along with an ability to deliver compelling messages of change and a true knack for spotting industry trends, you may be the kind of leader who is much closer to Sharon than Carl. That’s someone who is ready to make real, lasting change that an entire culture can get behind. In other words, a Leader With Courage.

Are you the next great Leader With Courage in the making?

A variety of outstanding C-level executives are taking the challenge of our free Leadership Self-Assessment to see how they score on attributes like the one above on being a Champion Of Culture. They don’t fear the areas they need to improve upon but rather look forward to strengthening certain weak points with our help at Value Drivers. Because Leaders With Courage are willing to put in the work to get better every day.

How about you? Take the Assessment and then call Value Drivers at 312.827.2643 to see how you can reach a higher level still.

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