The best way to improve performance in an organization is to clarify the organization’s vision and values, the roots from which its environment (i.e. behaviour and pattern of performance) springs. This brings to light another type of leadership, the cultural leadership, which deserves special attention because it is one of the bases for successful leadership. Without strong cultural leadership-skills throughout the organization, attempts at leadership development are doomed to fail.
All organizations, department, or divisions have a culture whether or not it is the one they want. Some are strong because they have strong visions, skills and values in place. For a leader to be an architect of culture, a long-term view is needed. Culture takes time to evolve. A leader has to decide whether he or she is running a business or an organization. Leaders trying to shape their units or the organization’s culture need to initiate certain activities so that it can bring about a high performance-oriented culture. These activities are discussed below:
- Fostering individual commitment: Commitment comes from a sense of ownership and involvement. There are different ways by which a leader can instill commitment in his employees. He has to find ways to delegate autonomy and share as much as possible, which sends a signal to employees that they are trusted. Commitment is also reinforced by training people so that they excel at their work and by recognizing and rewarding commitment. A ‘culture of pride’ and motivation to perform is heightened by appreciation, recognition and celebration.
- Instilling unique values: The core values of an organization which are the results of extensive research, experiences and rewards remain true and unchanging from the foundation of shifting strategies and plans. The role of the cultural leaders becomes very important in instilling these values amongst the employees of an organization so that everyone works with the same motivation for common goals. Those core values come to life only through the collective actions of managers.
- Existing for the customers: Recent experiences and researches have shown that organizations that remain viable and innovative are the ones that are close to customers. It means organizations must become truly focused on (and driven by) the customer in all aspects of its operations. Improved quality comes from a mindset that finds ways to do it right the first time. A significant result is high quality and productivity. A cultural leader lets customers set the standards for service and quality for his/her
- Taking innovative actions: All earlier efforts require an innovative spirit from the part of the leader. All innovations come through experimentation, piloting and market-trials. The future growth and development of an organization depends on the success of its innovation. Cultural leader infuses a spirit of experimentation among his employees which become the basis for innovation.
- Becoming a cultural leader: Culture is often a direct reflection of a person at the head of the organization. The more powerful the person, the more distinctive the culture is. More than anyone else, cultural leaders must convert their words to action. Not only must they espouse vision, they must reflect the vision and values by personal examples. Making appropriate responses during a crisis is the acid-test of leadership.
A cultural leader needs to be tough in his/her approach. Tough, in this context, means dealing with problems in a way that brings about desired results without trampling over self-esteems. It also means never losing touch with the shared value system of the organization in question. It means holding people accountable for what they agreed to do.
Effective cultural leaders encourage challenge. For them, it is a sign of life and energy. A skilled cultural leader recognizes a difference between challenges and those that are disruptive or unduly negative. The cultural leader understands that when people are afraid, they will often freeze, resist change and fight progress. But when people see value in their contribution, they have fun, feel like winners and develop an attitude that great things are possible.
About the Author:
Dr. Asare Bediako Adams is the Director of Operations for the Chartered Institute of Leadership and Governance and the Executive Director of PMRIG Group of Companies.
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