In the previous leadership article we defined leadership as influence and described some of the differences between a good manager and a good leader. In general, management is about today, leadership is about tomorrow; management focuses on tasks, leadership focuses on people; managers seek stability and control, leaders tolerate uncertainty to achieve change. Good leadership skills bring about a more successful and profitable organization through more satisfied workers, lower turnover, higher productivity, and more innovation. Previously we touched on the relationship between leadership and culture change and in this article we will explore that relationship further.
Today’s organizations often are attempting to implement a change in management philosophy such as lean production, continuous improvement, innovation, or team-based work. All of these philosophies require more than some new terminology and management system. In order to be successful, each of these philosophies requires a change in the culture of the organization—sometimes a drastic change. These culture modifications are not accomplished through a handbook or training program alone, although these tools might be an element of the process. Cultural change is never achieved by a managerial dictate or directive. It is only achieved through strong leadership guiding the organization through the change process.
In the realm of organizations, culture is defined as the pervasive values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company and guide its practices, especially the interactions between people both internally and with the external world. To achieve a change in an organization’s culture, a change is required in the way its people think and behave. This is not accomplished through a manager’s command, but is instead motivated by a good leader through the utilization of essential leadership practices. A good leader casts a compelling vision, communicating clearly what the future will look like, why it is crucial to change, what hurdles might be expected in the process of change, what the benefits will be for both the organization and for individuals, and how they will recognize success in achieving the vision. A good leader will model the way through his or her actions and behaviors. A good leader will publicly recognize significant achievements in the change process and privately correct hindrances to it. In short, culture change cannot be directed; it must be led.
Effective leadership then can move an organization to “think lean” or “think continuous improvement” or “think innovation”. The result is that all within the organization are moving toward the same goal rather than working at cross purposes. The result of a culture change can often extend beyond the company as customers see and buy into the mission expressed through the culture and become loyal followers also.
While we are focused on culture we might look more broadly at cultural issues beyond that of the company and how those may drive the need for leadership growth. Two or three generations ago workers were satisfied with a steady paycheck and willingly accepted the command and control style of management. Today’s workers expect much more from their employers, including challenge, growth and fulfillment – the intrinsic rewards. Employers bemoan the lack of work ethic and loyalty in workers without recognizing the changes in the world’s culture. As we mentioned in the previous article, good leadership drives these intrinsic rewards, which lead to a more loyal and productive workforce and reduced turnover.
In the next article in this leadership series we will explore further the concept of employee engagement and how it responds to the expectations of all workers, not just the millennials.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.