When our kids were young, I was often reminded of the adage, “children act like their parents — despite all attempts to teach them good manners.” When one of our kids did something I wasn’t especially pleased with, I found myself asking, “where did you learn that?” When I stood back, and I reflected on it, I could see where that behavior came from…their mother!
Well,…maybe not. When I was honest and took a longer look in the leadership mirror, I saw that I modelled some of that behavior. But it is often tough to recognize or face our own behavior reflected to us through the people we lead. Now that our kids have started their own families, it’s fascinating to see their behaviors being reflected back to them.
In our work with culture development, we clearly see a variation of leadership modelling; people in organizations act like their leader — despite all attempts to train them otherwise.
An organization’s culture ripples out from the team leading it. Many leadership teams don’t recognize their own behavior reflected back to them in their culture.
Mirror Images: Are They Seeing What You’re Saying?
When changes falter or organizations fail, it can usually be traced to dysfunctional management.
A department, division, or organization’s culture ripples out from its leadership team. Organizational behavior reflects leadership team behavior. A team that wants to change “them” needs to start with a deep look in the mirror to change “us.”
The department, division, or executive leadership team models behavior patterns that set the tone and examples for their organization.
A rigid leadership team stuck in traditional methods of internal focus, functional accountability, and empowerment can’t reshape their organization with more agile approaches of customer focus, horizontal teamwork, and “empartnerment” by talking about it. Leadership teams can only hit the shift key with less talk and more action. Their culture ripples out from what they do, not what they say.
Direction Introspection: Where Are We Headed?
Leadership teams set their culture compass. Failing to map a route through the many swamps and sinkholes of building a more effective organization is why 70% of culture change efforts fail. As Aesop, the ancient Greek fabulist and storyteller, observed, “After all is said and done, more is said than done.”
Effective leadership teams step back periodically to look in the mirror and review their progress. They look at what’s working and what isn’t. They adjust course accordingly. Strong team leaders move beyond building a team of champions to building a championship team.
High-performance teams balance working on the team with working in the team. They regularly ask themselves: ‘What should we keep doing, stop doing, and start doing?” to become ever more effective.
Correlation is Causation: Linking Leadership Team Dynamics and Culture Development
An organization’s culture reflects the dynamics and behavior of its leadership team. Culture development is intertwined with leadership team development.
1. Team Decisions and Collective Actions
Functional silos and vertical accountability often create disparate groups of hard-driving leaders who meet to share information and provide individual input to budgets and operational plans. Meetings are mostly data dumps, this week’s firefighting, and operational/technical problem-solving. What’s missing is horizontal teamwork to shift from rigidity to agility.
2. Follow Through and Follow Up
Many leadership teams are good at setting direction, strategies, and new goals. But very few teams have a strong discipline and rigorous process for cascading those plans throughout their organization and following through to hold themselves and the teams reporting to them accountable for implementation.
3. Tactical Planning versus Strategic Capacity Building
Feeling pressured to deliver immediate results, leadership teams often focus on short-term tactical issues. This spins the vicious cycle faster; they don’t build long-term organizational capacity, and so need to personally lead or push everyone to drive for short-term results. This leaves less time to build long-term capacity, so they need to fight more fires and solve an ever-growing number of urgent operational problems which means they have little time to build capacity….
4. Meeting Effectiveness
Meetings reflect and reinforce organizational culture. Meetings showcase the levels of discipline, cohesion, values, priorities, time management, customer focus, teamwork, and employee engagement/involvement provided by the executive team. Many meeting processes, content and tone of discussions, and participant behaviors waste time and sow the seeds of separateness and division.
5. Cascading and Engaging All Levels
Common complaints from supervisors or managers are conflicting messages from the leadership team, micromanagement, and lack of their involvement identifying and solving the organization’s biggest issues. Many leadership teams don’t have effective forums and processes to connect with, listen to, and strategically engage the deep wisdom and experience of their supervisors and managers.
6. Leadership Development/Succession Planning
Many organizations face a growing crisis as their leaders approach retirement or experience health problems. Failing to involve, coach, and develop their managers and supervisors has left the organization with little “bench strength” or management/leadership depth. Leadership development and succession planning are piecemeal programs, not an integrated strategy.
7. Courageous Conversations Addressing the Moose-on-the-Table
Most leaders insist — and truly believe — that their executive teams are open and everyone speaks their mind. Since he or she isn’t hearing that there is a problem, there’s often a false belief that there’s little fear to strongly debate, push back, or raise a “sensitive problem.” But when team members are confidentially interviewed or given a safe and anonymous process to “name the moose” (or elephant/gorilla in the room), a very different picture often emerges from the smothering silence.
How’s your team doing? Which traps have you slipped into? Are they symptoms or root causes? How do you know?
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