How Great Leaders Bring About Change
To leave a positive legacy, you must bring about change in the organisations you work with. Here is how you can begin bringing about change as a leader.
As someone who works in business strategy, I often do my best to try and challenge the status quo. I am always trying to think of new ways to work to best position my company for the future.
However, I have always felt that my work has never brought much value. I work for a giant company, and inside of that is a small strategy team trying to challenge what we do.
The problem is, it never gets too far. People are stuck in their ways and are happy to continue working the way they are. Unfortunately, many try their best to criticise the new ways of working proposed to stay comfortable.
After speaking to a member of my team who is leaving to do an MBA, I believe I have found the problem. It did not take too long for me to ask the main reason for his departure. And he told me, culture.
Now the company values are not bad. If you were to read them yourself, you would probably be motivated to work there. They are a list of innovative and compelling visions.
However, reading a companies values has nothing to do with the company itself. Just like a good logo tells you nothing about the companies products and services.
He argued that the company was too rigid and not agile enough. It did not allow for innovation and idea creation. He believed that the company was too big for its own good, leading to company culture taking decades to change.
Well, he was not willing to wait that long to make a difference, so he pursued something else.
One of the hardest, yet most rewarding things a leader can do is change a companies culture. It causes people to stop and think about what they do and how they are doing it. These two things can cause drastic changes in peoples attitudes and allow the leader to drive change.
You will find that the best leaders have caused significant changes in culture. So, here is how you can begin changing the culture of your company for the better.
The Importance of Culture
The first thing we must define is culture. Many people will argue it is the values the company stands for. These may be a result of culture, but they do not make the whole culture.
Culture is in the underlying, unseen things that drive peoples decisions. According to Cambridge dictionary, it is:
“The way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.”
Culture is vital to organisations because it is at the very heart of everything they do. The reasons behind the values, the people they employ, and the way people work are all defined by the culture.
Leaders in organisations are also driven by culture. They make decisions and build teams based on the cultures already determined by the business.
Before you get the idea to go off and change all cultures to make an impact, culture is essential. It is what makes you different, and it often drives your unique selling point.
Therefore, it is important to treat company cultures with care. And if they need change, it takes patience and courage to get it done.
Many leaders struggle to identify culture in their companies, and I do not blame them. There are a lot of factors that influence the way people interact with one another within a company.
Things like company values, the way they dress, meeting times, and more are all driven by culture. However, the difficult part is asking why all of these things are there and finding underlying patterns.
For example, currently, I work for a company that offers flexible working times. That means we can get in and leave whenever we want as long as we do our hours.
Funny enough, we have a very laid back work ethic. Deadlines are rarely set, and people work at their own pace. Also, I have noticed people tend to be two-five minutes late for meetings. Therefore, it is part of the working culture to be laid back and eased.
It is not listed in their values, neither is it something anyone has told me. However, from people’s behaviours, you can spot it.
As a leader hoping to change a culture, your first step is to identify it. Start finding links between processes and things people complain about. It will lead you to the underlying culture that may need to be changed for better results.
Unfortunately, many leaders believe that changing a process or way of working is changing a culture. Unfortunately, it is far from it. I used to think the same way too, but it is different.
A culture change is a complete paradigm shift in the way people do things. In other words, it is a mindset change. I could change and streamline business processes all day, and people would still operate the way they do.
Do not get me wrong, changing the process for the better is a good thing. It allows for business improvement and gives you a sense of fulfilment. But a culture change opens up a world of new ideas and processes to be explored.
On a micro level, a good example would be clothing or the time people get to meetings. On a macro level, it would be a change in vision or a set of values the company holds.
Two ways leaders are going about changing a culture. The first is by example. You will find many barriers to doing it this way because people within the organisation will not like it.
Even on a micro-level, people may find it frustrating. If it is casual dress, people would not like to see one person in their team come in a full suit every day. Even if they are the leader because it goes against culture.
These barriers can not be avoided. Therefore, it takes someone with courage and boldness to conduct themselves contrary to the company culture. It will take time, but with patience, people will start to admire you. Once that occurs, changes can begin to happen.
The second way is through running a radical test. Leaders that do this usually have a vision that goes against the status quo and are bold enough to put it to the test.
In doing so, they accept that they will get a lot of criticism and some may even be secretly hoping it fails. But in the end, through sheer determination, they manage to prove the fruits of their labour.
What Type of Leader Are You?
By firstly understanding culture, you can see the limits of your company. You will find the gaps and may even find parts where the culture contradicts across different parts of the business.
Once you understand the culture, you know the engine driving many people once they get to work. At this point, I would say you are two-thirds of the way there to leaving a legacy.
The question then goes to you. Are you happy to be a leader that follows the status quo and leave organisations not making much of a difference? Or are you the type of leader who wishes to leave a footprint in the companies you work for?
If you are the latter, you must have the courage to do two things:
- Live the culture you wish to see in the organisation
- Be willing to take risks on the vision you have for the culture of the company
These two traits are the things that separate the regular leaders from the great ones.
I am a Visionary and Writer who seeks to enrich society by challenging how we do business today to lead to a world of better leaders and opportunities tomorrow.