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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

Developing A Leadership Culture

Noted management guru Peter Drucker said “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes…but no plans and no actions.”

Your culture is the most powerful factor in your organization, and at most places, the least understood, least discussed and least planned for factor. Culture is the determining factor on how people in the organization respond to new ideas, creativity and enthusiasm. Culture embodies the sense of pride or discouragement in the environment of the organization.

Groups of management can not figure out why all their highly developed strategies and plans always seem to fall flat or fail. The fact is, if you don’t have a good culture and enabling systems in place to embrace and support those strategies, the culture will devour them every time.

Healthy culture is like oxygen, it keeps everything alive, vibrant and breathing. Toxic culture is like carbon monoxide, you don’t see it or smell it, but it will kill you.

Extremely healthy cultures are pipelines of leadership development. These environments have been created with the thought that the organization is as healthy as the rising pool of leaders, so they look to discover them, employ resources to develop them and then put them in positions and roles in which they are passionate. They challenge them to grow and excel, and by this, they help push and propel the organization. All organizations reach the height of their potential based on the leadership talent and ability of all leaders, not just the top tier.

Developing people as leaders, not necessarily as managers, is key to developing a strong culture. Developing leaders requires we are developing them as people. Training people typically involves some sort of task-oriented hard skill. Developing people is a more difficult proposition, it requires us to focus on the softer-skill side of leadership. A lot of the toxic-oriented cultures have highly-trained people. They know how to do their jobs very well, but the culture is terrible. In my seminar sessions, I have a segment pointing out the differences of leaders and managers, the contrast of which is very large. Both are important, both are needed, but culture is usually determined by the level of skill in the leader category, not the manager catagory.

You can also partially evaluate a culture by what it rewards. Most organizations reward someone for stepping in a performing a task, but they don’t even think of developing them as a leader. Another common trap is that managers think of sending a person off to a “boot camp” for leaders, which is fine for the individual, but when they come back inside the toxic culture, all they learned will melt like a snow cone in the summer sun, because the environment of the toxic culture will kill it. The reward was not in getting to go to a seminar, the reward would have been in how they could contribute once they returned, but the toxic culture inside the organization is not there to sustain life and new ideas, only to kill it.

Some thoughts to consider:

  1. Does your organization have a leadership pipeline?

  2. What does it look like in the context of your organization?

  3. How do you identify and develop rising leaders?

  4. What kinds of resources such as money, time, systems are devoted and assigned to develop people?

  5. When times are tough and budgets are tight, what happens to your leadership development plans? (This is a real revealing element of what may exist as a culture inside the organization)

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