Leadership and Culture – Take it from the Top
March 8, 2011 7 Comments
When we are young and idealistic, and first begin to work inside a company or organization, we tend to think that anything is possible. Of course, company leadership will change direction as new challenges arise and common sense prevails.
Of course! Yeah, sure…
Over time, we awaken to the fact that organizational culture – that way of thinking, feeling, and behaving, that set of expectations and motivations and worldviews that inexorably shapes the group – is a far more powerful force than common sense. Or our superior ideas. And it comes right from the top.
The leaders set and maintain organizational culture. Not the worker bees. You’ll either find it pleasant (or at least tolerable), or you’ll need to move on. If you stay in a culture that is a serious mis-match, you are asking for misery.
Why do existing cultures tend to have such a powerful and enduring influence? Here are several reasons – perhaps you can add others in the comments.
- Most leaders don’t like to be challenged – either personally, or in fielding a potential threat to the status quo. Change hurts.
- Over time, those who tend to embrace the values and attitudes of the organization rise to the top, and non-conformists are weeded out. Cultural self-selection reigns.
- People prefer to take on external “enemies” (competitors, market conditions, customers). It’s always easier to go after what’s out there, instead of doing the immensely difficult work of re-shaping internal culture.
- Most organizations were built around hierarchical models that were a response to the market conditions of the time. Large swaths of “the way it’s done here” are now assumed, even though the world has now moved well past the point where those things make any sense.
While it is possible to engineer some levels of change from a lower level of the organization, by and large, if you sense that there isn’t an openness to having the corporate culture questioned and improved, the end result will be beating your head against a wall. And, with the additional bonus of being viewed as a malcontent. Better to read the writing on that wall early on, and find a place to belong that is a “fit;” or, if you can, start your own company.
Those that hold the reins of power set the tone. Period. Be careful that you don’t just accept a job offer. Take a careful look at the leaders and the culture they are setting. And ask yourself with brutal honesty: Will I fit?
Because the culture isn’t going to change for you.
We’re going to be talking about Leadership and Culture this Tuesday (March 8th, 8 pm ET) during #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Be sure to read the thoughts of my co-moderator, Lisa Petrilli, on this topic. And, take a look at our brand spanking new LeadershipChat website, which we’ll continue to expand with new features in the coming weeks.