At its core, company culture embodies the soul of an organization. A good company culture helps individual team members work towards a common goal or vision.
It manifests in the thoughts, work ethic and ideology of every employee. It’s organic and difficult to tame. A company culture can easily be morphed into something else entirely through employee interpretations.
A powerful company culture requires management to continue to serve a positive purpose. Recent research has found a strong relationship between company culture, positive leadership behavior, and job satisfaction across organizations.
If people in leadership positions don’t take the right steps to provide clarity and encourage inspiration, it can lead to dysfunction, high staff turnover, and other adverse effects.
A Culture of Teamwork
What makes a great leader isn’t intelligence, or even experience, but wisdom. There are plenty of smart people who do well in a position of leadership, but knowledge doesn’t necessarily drive insight.
We live in a world with more information than any of us could possibly master. An effective leader who drives a positive company culture is humble, understands their own weaknesses, and gaps in knowledge. As a solution, they either:
- Enlist others to fill in their gaps, or
- Learn and train to make up for deficiencies
When a leader doesn’t possess this kind of wisdom, there are consequences for company culture as well.
According to Brandon Hall Group’s State of Leadership Development Study:
- 51 percent of organizations said their leadership is not at all ready, or only somewhat ready, to lead their organizations today.
- 71 percent said their leaders are not ready to lead their organizations into the future.
If a leader doesn’t make necessary changes in themselves to instill a sense of confidence in their workforce, it becomes difficult to drive effective business initiatives. The best organizations enlist individuals with the right skills to tackle individual tasks, which means that even the leader has to be comfortable being a follower from time to time.
According to the Center for Creative Leadership’s Future Trends in Leadership Development report, collective leadership is on the rise. Gone are the days of the “heroic leader” in charge of a loyal following of inspired subordinates.
Adaptive challenges of the modern business world require using a collective imagination to solve complex problems.
That’s why an effective leader today instills a culture of teamwork at the workplace. The team as a whole should support each other and offer all the knowledge and skills necessary to do the most effective work. If gaps remain, then it’s the leader’s job to hire new talent or encourage learning among existing team members, herself included.
A Culture of Science
A certain amount of authority comes along with any position of leadership. But authority only goes so far in driving an effective company culture.
It’s true that people usually follow a leader first and their vision second. But if they lack confidence in your ability to lead, they won’t be very committed to your vision.
In today’s business world, authority shouldn’t be used as a tool to gain employee confidence. Phrases like “I’m in charge,” or “That’s the way we do things around here,” do little to improve a leader’s true level of influence.
Instead of using authority as a tool, great leaders use evidence. Their ideas and their vision come with support from observation, evidence, and analysis, just like a scientist. So even if team members don’t have confidence in your authority, they can still be convinced to support your vision.
This leadership skill matters more in today’s business world than ever before. According to a Deloitte survey, top business executives today don’t have confidence in the ability of future leaders to drive innovation.
And one major reason for their lack of confidence is the rise of Millennials. This young, educated, and relatively inexperienced generation is filling executive jobs, and older team members are less than confident in their ability to succeed.
That said, Millennials are the first generation to live their whole lives immersed in technology, and they have a lot to offer regarding knowledge and innovation in a tech-driven business world.
But to drive confidence in their visions as leaders, they need to prove themselves. Backing up their ideas with observation, evidence and analysis is the way to do it.
A Culture of Engagement
Leadership as a concept has gone through more than its share of analysis and interpretation. One study sought to create an integrated definition by analyzing 160 articles on the subject, coming up with this (paraphrased) definition:
“A leader is someone who selects, equips, trains, and influences followers and focuses them to the organization’s mission and objectives, causing the followers to willingly and enthusiastically expend energy in a concerted, coordinated effort to achieve the organizational mission and objectives.”
Followers are willing to work towards a leader’s objectives. For this to happen, employees must feel valued. This comes from welcoming ideas and considering employee contributions. A leader who doesn’t encourage this kind of engagement can create problems in employee confidence and willingness to participate.
Brandon Hall Group’s study on leadership also found:
- Coaching was identified as the skill with the greatest gap in all leaders.
- Communication, resiliency, critical thinking, collaboration, and data analysis also were identified as the five skills most essential for all leaders and with a significant gap in mastery.
Communication, collaboration, and engagement are significant problems in many company cultures today, with consequences. Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202%.
Great leaders are strong communicators, but they’re also great listeners. And this includes encouraging a company culture of engagement.
Many leaders has uttered the phrase, “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.” But this doesn’t inspire initiative as much as discourage employees from discussing issues with you.
Leaders don’t have to agree with what their employees have to say, but good leaders will always listen. Innovative problem solving most often happens during a discussion of the issue, not in the mind of one person.
Encouraging a culture of engagement, even for unsolved problems, can be the most effective way to cause “the followers to willingly and enthusiastically expend energy in a concerted, coordinated effort to achieve the organizational mission and objectives.”
A Culture of Good Will
There’s no denying that a cutthroat, even negative company culture can sometimes have a way of driving results. Just look at Amazon and their relentless evaluation system. One reporter revealed, “...we found a real pattern of people who had life crises when they were at Amazon; they had cancer, their parents died, they had pregnancy loss. And that they said is that the company did not give them time to recover, and they felt the company was so relentless that they couldn’t pause and get back on their feet.” People couldn’t take care of themselves and keep their job.
And then there’s the example of Google, a company even more successful than Amazon. The huge corporation is often described as having a small-business feel, where employees are encouraged to offer suggestions and even criticisms to the upper ranks. Google also gives back to the community, enlisting the help of their employees along the way.
Amazon’s culture of evaluation and Google’s culture of good will are both shaped by their leaders’ policies, and both drive results.
But which is better? Goodwill really goes a long way:
- Research from Columbia University found the chances of job turnover at organizations with rich company culture was 13.9 percent, compared to 48.4 percent at organizations with poor company culture.
- University of Warwick researchers also found that happy workers are 12 percent more productive than average, while unhappy workers are 10 percent less productive.
A culture of good will towards employees seems to matter for productivity as well as profit.
The ability to work alongside employees, inspire, motivate, and offer wisdom are more than just soft skills that can make you a better leader. They are essential attributes of a leader who can create and maintain a company culture that encourages all employees to work towards a common, positive goal.