The first myth of leading culture is that you have a choice as to whether you do it or not. If you are in a senior role in any organisation which is undergoing a culture change journey, how you show up and what you make important is guiding and shaping the new culture. In this, there is no choice.
If your organisation has defined its cultural narrative and you don’t consciously use it to guide your actions, behaviours and decisions, you are still creating a culture, just not the one that you would want.
In that respect cultural change is binary. You are either creating the desired culture or you aren’t – there is no grey area.
In our study and experience of culture change it became apparent that great leaders of culture change do five things that others don’t. No matter what the industry, sector or organisation type, when we see these five things consistently in the most senior teams in an organisation, we can be sure that the new, desired culture will take hold.
Model the way
Powerful leaders of culture know that they must go first. They understand that they can’t demand that any of their constituents live and breathe the new culture unless they are.
They will have their own congruent stories that bring the new culture to life and impress upon their teams that they must have their stories too.
The very best leaders of culture change are willing to be vulnerable and admit when they haven’t quite got it right and what they have learned from the experience.
Go all in
We’ve all experienced the leaders who will demonstrate the desired culture when they are speaking at the annual conference or in front of customers, but in the quarterly business reviews or budget meetings, it is an afterthought at best.
Or they will play it safe, walking the talk but will hang back from making changes to structures or measure that will really drive the change through.
Great leaders of culture change go all in. They place their reputation on the line to ensure that the culture they are driving takes hold. They become the figure head for the new culture change in everything they say and do – with everyone in the organisation.
Lead with energy
We often say that the emotional state of a leader is reflected in the emotional state of their people. Rarely is this truer than during times of change. Great leaders of culture change bring energy to the change process. This isn’t just about being positive; at times this is a demanding energy, at other times they give their people permission to relax.
There is never a neutrality to their energy though, and it always leaves their people in a better place and closer to the ultimate culture change goal.
Leading an organisation with a new culture requires a new skill set. Great leaders of culture know that, no matter what they experience, they must always keep their own saw sharp and bring new skills to their leadership role.
The common challenge comes when a leader thinks that, because they have led a culture change before, they don’t need to grow in order to lead this one. When the new culture doesn’t take hold in the way they thought, they find themselves out of tools to get it back on track.
For great leaders learning is a strategic imperative.
In our Crossing the Chasm culture change model, chasm one is ‘recognition of scale’, the third chasm is ‘crossing the finish line’. ‘Maintaining focus’ ‘gathering momentum’ and ‘creating new norms’ are also part of the journey. The basic principle behind all of these is that to realise a culture change, you have to keep going.
Great leaders of culture change are tenacious. They have flexibility in their approach but are unwavering in their pursuit of the new culture.
They will keep going until they can feel the new culture in every part of their organisation.
Are you a great leader of culture change?
I invite you to do a little self-reflection.
Scale yourself from 1 – 10 on each of the factors in this article.
Choose one and make it your mission to get to the top of the scale on it.
Please share this article with colleagues and connections who are involved in culture change journeys.
To learn more about our culture change work, email firstname.lastname@example.org, I’ll be delighted to reply to you personally.