Organizational Leadership involves innovative leadership, and we cannot really cover the topic of innovative leadership without touching on the concept of organizational culture. In fact, sometimes organizational leadership and organizational culture are called two sides of the same coin. But what differences can we find when we look at organizational culture and organizational leadership? The culture of the organization guides the behavior of its members. The very definition of culture has to do with a system of rules and expectations that guides us in our social environment. This is especially true in the workplace.
With organizational culture and organizational leadership, there is a common misconception. Some organizational leaders think that culture can be dictated from the top levels. Culture, however, can not be dictated anymore than one can dictate how someone else feels. While leaders cannot dictate culture, they certainly play a role in shaping it (just as you cannot dictate how someone feels about you, your behavior certainly affects it!). Plus, just as a nation can share a national culture and yet have regional or cross-sectional sub-cultures, so does an organization. Therefore even department leaders play a role in shaping an organization’s culture.
Two very core attributes of any culture, including an organization, that really shapes expectations and behaviors are what is perceived to be important (values) and what is thought to be true (beliefs). Leaders cannot simply tell people what is important or what is true; the members of a culture will make that determination by what goes on in the organization.
One way leaders can promote a positive organizational culture is by setting priorities that all members recognize as important to the organization’s success. Leaders set priorities by how they focus their attention and allocate resources. Members of the organization will know customer service is a real priority, for example, if the customer service team is properly staffed, well-equipped, and well-trained with clear direction and goals.
On the other hand, if they are told customer service is important, but lack the resources and authority to provide good customer service because of cost constraints, the members will recognize and follow that priority, making cost their top concern. Plus, the members will perceive that the organization is insincere and hypocritical, or possibly incompetent. How do you think that will affect what members believe to be true and feel is important?
Two things that successful leaders tend to do well is initiate structure and show consideration. These fit very well in the context of our discussion on culture. The customer service example above demonstrates that how a leader initiates structure will affect organizational culture. The ways that organizational leaders recognize the needs of individual members, as well as their importance to the organization, also shapes its culture by affecting the members beliefs and attitudes.
While the topic is too complex to discuss in great detail here, we hope that introducing the concept can help you reflect on how leaders in your organization shape its culture. It also connects clearly to the larger theme of innovative leadership. Just like an honest leader promotes an organizational culture that values honesty, an innovative leader promotes a culture of innovation.
Innovative leaders who recognize change as an inevitable part of business, and therefore embrace new and improved methods, will certainly have an impact on the organization’s culture. Imagine a culture where members believe that change is positive and potentially beneficial for everyone in an organization. In many organizations people fear change because their past experiences have taught them that change results in job loss or dis-empowerment.
In the current business environment, being fast, responsive, and flexible is increasingly important. What kind of organization will thrive in the fast-moving and ever-changing market place: a stodgy organization whose members cling to old ways out of fear, or an innovative one that seeks and embraces change? We all know the answer to that question. The real question is what kind of organization is your current style of leadership creating?
To learn more about using process improvement programs for your organization, attend the next Implementing Lean Thinking class.