The Impact of Leadership on Organizational Culture

How many of us truly understand what a leader does when we take on the role for the first time?

There is much more to leadership than just being in charge, making important choices, and occupying the large corner office.

The role of the leader is to inspire their teams, to be a role model, and to define the culture within their teams.

But where do we learn this? How many of us have heard on leadership courses that leaders define the culture of our organisations, I know I didn’t; this was never mentioned to me. It’s something that I learned from a book many years after I had already been in leadership positions.

I wrote a post a few days ago called ‘Does Leadership Define Culture’ and the feedback I received on that either through direct mail or messages was pretty much mixed. Some people absolutely thought that leadership defined culture, but others felt that the culture defined the leaders. But most people agree that leaders have a significant impact on culture if not outright definition.

If this is the case, then why is the topic not much more prevalent in leadership training?

It’s hard to understand this, as Peter Drucker says, ‘Culture eats strategy for lunch‘ and this is a sentiment I very much agree with, so it’s clear that culture is very important. In fact, culture can be the difference between success and failure.

Leaders need to be conscious of not only the importance of culture but also their role within it.

Setting the culture requires the leadership to make conscious decisions about the type of culture that they want to create or influence within their teams, and then they need to walk the walk. People look to their leaders to see how they act and then follow that example, so leaders need to make sure that they set the right example, one that is in line with the culture they want to create.

In one company where I worked, the leader was obsessed with punctuality and also having an ‘open culture’, these were things that he continually drilled into his teams.

However, given that he was constantly late for meetings and was always looking for whom to blame when things went wrong, our culture reflected his actions and not his wishes.

I remember one time he was late for his own meeting by about 20 minutes, and someone called him out on it, as punctuality was one of our key objectives, and he just replied, ‘that only applies to you not to me, I am senior to everyone and therefore my time is more important than everyone else’s‘.

People don’t just listen to what you say; they also watch what you do. The old adage ‘actions speak louder than words‘ is very much alive and well, especially when it comes to teams and their leadership.

When we become leaders, we have a lot of new responsibilities, but the most important ones are those that involve setting the vision and culture and being a role model.

If we get these right, then everything else just falls into place; if we get them wrong, then everything will just fall apart.

So ask yourself: Are you being a role model? Does your organisation have the type of culture that you want? Have you taken actions to define the culture? If not, then it’s time to do so!

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