Organisational culture is driven by many combining elements not the least of all leadership, the politic and self-interest. Moreover, history from the beginning of time supports backing self interest to win over others in many contests.
However, for the purposes of this blog, let’s just focus on the role that leadership plays in shaping organisational culture. There must be millions of books and articles written on this very topic and even more megabytes devoted to it, so why do some organisations keep overlooking the obvious? Protégés select leaders and leaders have a powerful impact on defining and shaping culture with their actions not words. Hence we get the culture we deserve. This can be progressive, inclusive and inspiring or it can be regressive, blaming and fearful. After all, isn’t every organisations dream to have people who had the option to leave but instead chose to stay?
The evidence is compelling and is everywhere. Whether it’s the public or private sector, organisations big or small, for profit or not for profits the same dynamics are at play. Furthermore, as it’s just as easy to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing, why not then opt for the right. It’s simple right? – but simple doesn’t mean easy.
For leaders, it often takes authenticity, vision, courage and a thick skin to overcome the negative forces that can lurk in the shadows. This may mean taking an unpopular stand and overcoming the naysayers and dissidents. As Peter Marshall, the Scottish Clergyman said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”. Of course, a lack of authenticity in leaders has an opposite impact on a positive corporate culture and this is one of, if not the key imperative that shapes the organisational landscape. Robert Sternberg, from Yale University, cites his ‘Invulnerability Fallacy’ as one of his four leadership stereotype descriptors – “when leaders think they can get away with anything, because they are too clever to be caught; and even if they are caught, they figure that they can get away with what they have done because of who they imagine themselves to be”. The good news is that authentic leaders populate many levels of our organisations; however sadly the minority of leaders Sternberg describes sometimes have a larger megaphone.
The bottom line is that leaders can choose to create and nurture a positive, progressive, inclusive and productive organisational cultures or at the opposite end of the scale, one that emerges from Sternberg’s ‘Invulnerability Fallacy’ stereotype where it’s riddled with mistrust, fear and loathing and where negativity and wasted resources and energy drive dispirited organisational energy and activity.
It’s clear what’s right and what’s wrong, what works and what doesn’t. Authentic leaders have an outstanding opportunity to lead by example and let their protégés and teams help them shape the organisational culture that simply overwhelms and weeds out those that seek to lead through fear, misuse of power and negativity. This is stuff that great organisations are made of.