Improving Culture through Leadership

Today’s corporate culture landscape can be described as volatile. There is such a focus on the individual that it’s hard to see team dynamics. That’s where leadership comes in. And to address these trying times, a different leadership approach is required.

It is unlikely one person will have the one-size fits all solution. True know-how comes from being able to tap into the expertise of a team and its members. Leaders need to think about their roles from a totally different perspective. Doing so allows for new strategies and innovation.

But, where to begin? Start with improving leadership.

Let It Go

Queen Elsa was right when she sang “Let It Go.” While it’s not custom to quote a Disney movie in an article about HR, it applies in this case as Queen Elsa was a leader. Now the circumstances of the song were certainly different, but the saying still applies: leaders need to let things go.

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Leaders do not need all the answers. Despite what some leaders think, knowing every little detail of information can cause a leadership crisis. These individuals should make a conscious decision to let go of trying to be worthy of the title. Leaders should not dig so deep into a project that the project itself is put into jeopardy. Instead, they should keep a safe distance from the project. Instead, leaders should focus on the people responsible for the project. The focus should be on finding ways to connect with these team members and find opportunities to coach them. This is often referred to as the teachable moment.

Being Present

As previously stated, leaders should take a step away from the action. To be more clear, leaders should simply “be” and not “do”. This will allow a leader to focus on the strategic part of their job. When leaders “do”, they often neglect other parts of their job, namely preparing for the project’s next challenges and finding new opportunities.

“Doing” also impairs a leader’s ability to learn new information, examine mistakes, set limitations, or see the big picture. “Being” offers the leader an opportunity to create clarity and make critical connections not previously seen.

Changing Habits

When leaders change habits and try something new, often enough, new ideas are revealed. If a weekly meeting offers little in terms of real opportunity to better people, teams, or the organization, stop holding the meeting and find a new process that adds real value.

Leaders should be able to determine what drives their teams and the company forward.

And remember to communicate effectively.

A SHRM study reported that miscommunication costs companies of 100 employees an average of $420,000 per year. For very large organizations of 100,000 employees, inadequate communication resulted in losses of $62.4 million per year.

No matter the size of your organization, it’s important for Leaders to effectively communicate in order for teams, divisions and companies to be productive and successful.

Addressing the Culture

Now that we’ve addressed leadership, we must address culture. Culture is really made up of three layers.

What we see Behaviors, systems, processes, policies surrounding the way things are done
What we say Ideals, goals, values, aspirations set by leadership
What we believe Underlying assumptions that guide behavior

When it comes to improving culture through leadership, a leader’s behavior and communicative ability is critical in that it sets the tone for what is to come.

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5 Ways to Improve Culture

There are five ways leaders can improve culture.

  1. Model behaviors. Leaders must talk the talk and walk the walk. Employees look to leaders to take charge of situations and to show and explain expectations. Employees will not change if leaders don’t live the change first. In other words, leaders have to lead by example.
  2. A believable purpose. Employees want to know what is expected of them. Role clarity is significant as this is the way in which that role impacts the larger strategy and organization.
  3. Set expectations. Leaders need to set expectations. It’s important that teams know they are part of the culture. Equally as important is helping those employees learn the required skills to be successful parts of the culture.
  4. Reinforce accountability. Accountability is one of the most important ways a leader can improve culture. Without it, employees will not engage in the change.
  5. Make the change personal. Without this piece, the other four do not matter as much. Making the improvement to culture personal will allow leaders to connect with employees emotionally and rationally. This makes them integral to the improvement process and helps provide ownership of the culture.

The Obstacles to Culture Improvement

No leader is perfect. Each has his or her own strengths and growth opportunities. Instead of focusing on our shortcomings, strong leaders leverage their strengths. That positive focus in a team environment produces a culture of respect, trust and collaboration. Leaders must overcome these challenges by living their organizational values, setting clear development goals and building a strong support system in a healthy workplace culture.


Mason Stevenson
HR Exchange Network