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8 Leadership Behaviours that Drive a Strong Culture

By December 2, 2018June 4th, 2019Leadership
8 Leadership Behaviours that Drive a Strong Culture

For a long time, business leaders relegated culture to HR, believing it to be a ‘soft’ issue without any material impact. Yet, at the right companies, culture equates to competitive advantage. Here’s how to develop yours.

In the world of work, culture’s definition varies. Some will tell you it’s the sum of an organisation’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Others will say it’s ‘the way people do things’. Many believe it’s how an organisation lives its values. We say, culture is all of these: It’s what, and how, an organisation thinks, acts and behaves.

Moreover, not only does culture define a business, it is the single most important determinant of business success – because everything depends on it.

From an internal perspective, strategy’s successful implementation hangs on culture. Management thought leader, Peter Drucker is famously attributed for having said that, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’.

The simple fact is that when you fail to connect people to your plan, the plan is at risk. And here, think of culture as both the connector (or link) between your plan and your people, and the connectivity – the quality of that connective state.

Staying with the internal impacts of culture; there is a clear link between culture and innovation. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella is a strong advocator of culture’s role in advancing ideation and innovation.

In a recent interview with McKinsey’s Simon London, Nadella maintains, “I would argue that for a successful company, you will have to overemphasize [creating] the right culture, so that you can continue to cultivate new capabilities and new concepts.”

Nadella’s view is grounded in the understanding that when people come together in a culture of collaboration, cooperation and mutual respect, invariably the products and services they produce meet higher standards of quality. Performance, productivity and profit – they all improve with a positive culture.

Today, the role of business leaders – as models of organisational culture – is becoming increasingly important. But what are the leadership behaviours that drive a strong culture?

From our experience, working with diverse organisations across a range of industries and sectors, we have identified eight key behaviours that, when practiced by organisational leaders help drive a positive culture.

8 Behaviours Business Leaders Can Learn to Drive a Strong Culture

1. Put people first

There is no profit without people. There is no purpose without people. To benefit from an effective culture, your people must be your organisation’s top priority.

In his book, The Employee Experience Advantage, futurist and workforce thought leader, Jacob Morgan presents a chapter called, ‘You Have to Care, Really Care’. The advice for organisations is simple: Don’t portray your company as caring, when you are not. Be real. Make a commitment to putting your people at the centre of your business.

2. Be the role model

Often, leadership comes with titles: chief, director, manager, supervisor, head, team leader. But the designation and delegation of power does not automatically guarantee people’s respect. The old adage, ‘resect is earned’ holds true. A leader whom people admire holds herself to the same – if not higher – standards of communication, quality and conduct.

3. Communicate ethically

Communication is a critical leadership skill. And while many leaders work to hone their communication skills – to become better public speakers or more persuasive presenters, few practice or train in ethical communication.

Combining elements of authenticity, empathy and transparency, ethical communication demands high levels of self-awareness, and self-transcendence. Strive to become more aware of your unconscious biases, and to understand the needs of others, seeing the world through their eyes. This will make your communication both artful and authentic.

4. Work with purpose

People are drawn to leaders who work with purpose and conviction. Conviction requires belief in a clearly articulated organisational purpose; something many companies lack.

If your company is missing purpose, try to define it by asking these questions: ‘What do we do here?’ and ‘Why does it matter?’. Once you have your answers, make the purpose known. Share it with all your stakeholders. Become known as a leader who brings people together around a meaningful and shared purpose.

5. Celebrate people and their efforts

Positivity is a magnet. A sure way to bring positive energy into the workplace is to celebrate whatever is going right. All too often, companies play ‘the blame game’, pointing fingers when something goes wrong. Rather, look to create moments of celebration and joy. Uphold the people who are doing things right and recognise their efforts.

6. Learn from others

Learning is a gateway to so many gains: knowledge, wisdom and humility. When you become a learner, you come to respect your teacher as much, for the value of the lessons, as for the insight and guidance they provide.

Consider the many people within your organisation from whom you can learn. You may have a title that distinguishes you as ‘superior’, but you are surrounded by teachers. Ask questions of your colleagues, and show appreciation for what you learn. A thriving culture is characterised by a humble desire to learn and grow.

7. Appreciate the competition

It’s almost second nature in business, to slate the competition. There’s good reason to rethink this stance. Verbal attacks on your company’s competition – be it in meetings, briefings or town halls – shows a lack of respect. There’s a disturbing irony within all too many organisations that publicly declare ‘respect’ as a company value, yet happily denigrate their competitors.

Instead of running down your competition, look to see what they are doing well, and be heard offering praise and approval. That’s how respect is shown, and how others will learn from your example.

8. Own the mistake

Corporate cover-ups. It’s the stuff of late-night TV dramas, or is it? Every day, all around the world, boardrooms are full of business leaders who pass the buck, blame others and cover their tracks.

In every instance, it is a leadership fail. Admit that you made a mistake. It shows backbone. Present your ideas for remedial action. It shows responsibility. Then get on with it, setting things right, business as usual.

Studies show that a strong culture correlates with organisational effectiveness. For leaders, there is much to gain from learning how to drive a positive culture. Not least of which is the personal journey to becoming a better leader, and a more qualified human being.

Felicity Hinton

Felicity Hinton

Felicity Hinton is the founder and chief strategist at Humanist, a culture-change agency that helps transform people for business success. Previously, she worked in human performance solution design, and advertising. She is a certified change manager (UCT), has a Bachelor’s degree in English (Wits), and has won several awards for her business writing, including a Silver Quill.

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