Culture Leadership Requires Courage

Many of you have honey in your kitchens. Think for a moment about how honey is created. It starts with worker bees completely and wholeheartedly dedicated to the success of both the hive and the queen bee’s vision. The worker bees trust the queen bee absolutely. Usually, the hive is able to thrive, even in a difficult environment (check out the USDA’s examination of “colony collapse disorder“).

Creating high levels of employee drive and commitment is what makes a culture leader truly effective. Blanchard’s research indicates that when employees trust and respect their leaders, it increases their willingness and commitment to apply their “heads, hearts, and hands” in the service of the company’s goals and values.

Engaging employees’ skills and spirit is complicated by a culture change, because the process of refining an organization’s culture often requires changing embedded structures, services, systems, and even power and control. Trust and respect can be difficult to create or maintain if staff believe they are giving up more than they gain.

Culture Leaders Need to Have the Courage to ASK How Changes Are Perceived

If you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, I’d love for you to), you know that my tweets guide leaders to be more available, more transparent, and more connected to their staff and customers. In the midst of culture refinement, this approach is even more critical. There is nothing worse than a leader who is disconnected from their employee’s experiences, who doesn’t know the frustrations that employees experience trying to get their company’s product or service delivered.

Two proven methodologies can keep leaders connected: truth-tellers and scouts. Truth-tellers are players that the leader trusts to tell the leader the truth – boldly and assertively – about what the buzz is in the organization about policies, practices, changes, etc. Sometimes those truths are not “self-evident.” Sometimes those truths are hard for a leader to hear. Truth-tellers are trusted advisers who can help the leader understand employee perceptions, understand how policies or procedures are viewed, and understand employee frustrations.

Truth-tellers can include direct reports, executive coaches, and even front-line staff who are unafraid to bring the leader their perceptions.

Leaders must have the courage to embrace the information truth-tellers provide, and to modify actions and communications to reflect the reality across their organization. Leaders who “shoot the messenger” – who chastise the truth-teller for telling the truth – will find themselves isolated from reality, getting only “good news” from subordinates who are afraid to tell the truth.

Scouts serve a similar role. Scouts are players dispersed across the organization (literally and figuratively) who are responsible for letting senior leadership team members know the buzz from the front lines. Scouts might be seen as “truth-tellers in training,” because if they do their job well, they earn senior leaders’ trust and respect over time.

These informal yet vital channels help the culture leader stay “in tune” with how staff across the organization see leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions – and if they are aligned with the organization’s stated vision, purpose, and values.

Do You Have the Courage to Learn Everyday?

In a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, actor Garry Shandling was discussing the powerful impact that his acting teacher had on Shandling’s “craft.” Years ago, this teacher asked Shandling, “Do you have the courage to learn something about yourself when the cameras are rolling?”

Effective leaders – and culture leaders, particularly –  have the courage to learn something about themselves while they are actively guiding the efforts of organizational members.

To increase your leadership effectiveness, seek the truth and modify your organization’s practices to align with it’s espoused vision, purpose, and values.

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