It’s been said so many times, but it’s worth repeating, “Good leadership is more than getting tasks accomplished.” Quality leadership develops people. It builds people up, inspires confidence and makes a genuine, positive difference in everything it touches. One thing that leadership MUST do is influence, maintain and perpetuate culture.

Often times leaders get so focused on WHAT to do that HOW to do things becomes open for interpretation. Don’t misunderstand what I mean by this. It isn’t a license or call to micro-manage people or bureaucratically babysit them. It is a delicate balance – a dance if you will. People need their autonomy and enough freedom for the individuality to shine through. The line needs to be drawn where the desired expression of individuality begins to erode the desired culture and THAT is where cultural leadership must be effective.

Ideally, people should be hired for Character, Chemistry, Culture & Competence (and in that order of importance) but even the most benevolent of intentions can easily yank culture off course. Leadership must be on the lookout for this or an organization will experience culture creep and then deal with implementing the dreaded “change initiative” to get things back on track.

Here are 4 key things necessary for successful cultural leadership.

  1. Do recruitment right – If we were completely honest with ourselves we would admit that typically we hire for skills and fire for attitude. Why are we not hiring for attitude if that is the primary reason for our turnover costs? If you don’t have questions and measures in place to ensure that attitude matches your culture, you’re only setting yourself up for an eventual disappointment later. Turnover is expensive, so save yourself some money upfront.
  2. Know WHY before giving direction – Beginning at the age of 3 the question “Why?” becomes part of our DNA it seems. The short answer to Why? is that is is part of your culture. If you can’t answer why you do something with either legal/ethical compliance or as a way to support your organizational culture then people have good reason to ask that question. Culture is an expression of your purpose as an organization. Know it before-hand.
  3. Be the example – I know…painfully obvious, right? The reason this has to be repeated is because it is so rarely done. Exemplary leadership is great when it’s easy, but when it takes effort – real effort – the temptation is to take the short cut and just assume that people will understand the brief deviation. That just communicates the standards don’t matter and the culture of your organization is lackadaisical. People follow how you lead…good or bad.
  4. Let culture influence strategy – This one is tough for many leaders. Sometimes a business strategy seems lucrative, but if it requires you to abandoned the culture you want it isn’t worth it. When culture and strategy seem at odds, culture is the better option. The short term gain of profits doesn’t compare to the long term cost of a devolving culture.

What are your thoughts on cultural leadership?