How Leadership Affects Organizational Culture
As we continue to navigate life in a global pandemic and the impacts of the great resignation, leadership is a hotter topic than ever before. Why? Because there’s finally concrete proof of the impact of how leadership affects organizational culture.
I’m know I’m not the only person who has left an organization due to a toxic work culture. In tracing the line from where the toxicity began, it often ties back to the leadership (or lack of). Leaders set the tone of the organization – positive and negative.
While toxicity doesn’t always look the same, the impacts are similar. The brightest and most talented people quickly leave the organization, knowing the importance a positive workplace culture contributes to their performance as well as personal and professional fulfillment. While these people go off in search of meaningful work, the workers who remain become less engaged and motivated.
What can be done to stop the intellectual drain and motivate staff? Start at the top. Is the organization being led by a leader or a manager? A leader motivates and inspires others, while a manager solely focuses on tasks and outputs with little to no regard for the human element.
Manager vs leader
Over my career, I’ve worked with managers, leaders and everything in between. To help clarify the difference between a manager and leader, I thought I’d share two stories (yes, I’ve made sure they don’t identify the parties even if it’s tempting to do so).
Here’s an example of a manager. Working in a senior management position, my workdays were rarely confined to 9 am to 5 pm. I often had nighttime meetings, would need to stay late to work on an emerging issue or get calls at home.
On one particularly taxing day, I had to stay up until 3 am awaiting a strike vote by the union. It was a full day of contingency planning and drafting communications materials. I finally went to bed shortly after 3 am, only to get a phone call at 6 am to come to work for a mandatory 7 am meeting.
By 2 pm, I was barely staying awake and asked if I could go home early. I was told that as a senior manager, I was expected to physically be in the building during office hours, to set a positive example for other staff. The fact I had worked a 19-hour day didn’t allow me an exception to this rule.
I quit a month later.
The reason – there was zero leadership and recognition of employee’s unique contributions.
While this is an extreme example, it is a good representation of how employees were valued. They were seen as commodities versus people.
Inspiration vs demoralization
On the opposite end is a leader who inspires people to continue giving their best, regardless of the work demands.
In 2010, I was working on the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games in media relations. I was part of a team that put on an important international event, with very little notice. We came together from a number of organizations to do what needed to be done.
After the event, a leader with the Vancouver Olympic team sent an email to our communications team thanking us for our hard work. It wasn’t a generic email, but rather noted specific things we had done and how it had contributed to the success of this event.
By taking the time to include these details, it not only showed that he was paying attention, but that he understood and appreciated how we went above and beyond.
His words mattered.
The impact? Instead of being exhausted, we were all energized and inspired to keep giving our best. It created a ripple effect that continued throughout the Olympics.
His authentic and motivating leadership style permeated through every level of the Olympic movement. And what an Olympics we hosted!!!
He set the tone for the organization which resulted in a positive organizational culture.
With increased stresses from the pandemic and fewer social interactions, leaders, from all levels of the organization, have an important role to play in motivating, inspiring and retaining employees.
People want to work in organizational cultures that encourage creativity, are flexible, foster development and honour personal needs and interests. These cultures don’t create themselves but rather are born out of the leaders within the organization.
I encourage you to be honest with yourself – are you a manager or a leader? If you are, or inspire to be a leader, what organizational culture do you want to create and be a part of? What role will you play? And how will you support those around you?
Companies that embrace and encourage leadership will attract and retain the brightest and most motivated employees. While those who stick to a management style will continue to complain about the great resignation and be left with an uninspired workforce.
I know which company I want to work with. What about you?