Cultural Leadership: Growing Bench Strength with 4 Simple Methods
With Baby Boomers (the largest population of Americans) exiting the workforce within 15 years (or winding down at least), there’s a mass Leadership Call to Action in organizations of every size, in every industry. Cultural leadership is the name of the game, to foster collaborative, fast-moving teams and customer loyalty – and prepare the next generation of leaders. Not just for titled leadership roles (a tremendous and valid concern for most companies); to create permission and opportunity for people to lead in more informal ways.
Are you fostering culture + leadership to be nimble, adaptive, and competitive? Workplace trends will be shaped in game-changing ways over the next 2 decades by jobs requiring rapid and expert problem solving and decision making. Teamwork as the central unit of performance. Increasing job specialization (demanding cross-functional collaboration). Global workforce diversity trends. Demands for work-life balance.
Cultural leadership is not just robust succession planning process and defining core competencies. We define it as:
- Growing people at every level of the business who can transform the workplace in an era of unprecedented speed, change, and technology.
- Becoming an active and conscious steward of building a culture that can consistently deliver high levels of customer loyalty, employee loyalty, and financial returns.
Cultural leadership allows leaders to emerge in unexpected places. It is characterized by:
- Personal responsibility at every level of the organization.
- Passionate people who love their jobs, whether they are doing, planning, or innovating.
- Leaders Without Title.
- Feedback woven into the fabric of the organization, allowing a company to embrace and adapt quickly to change.
This requires new skills and mindsets about hierarchy, organizational structure, and employee development. As said in Harvard Business Reviewed article “Developing Your Leadership Pipeline”:
…In our research into the factors that contribute to a leader’s success or failure, we’ve found that certain companies succeed in developing deep and enduring bench strength by approaching succession planning as more than the mechanical process of updating a list. Indeed, they’ve combined two practices—succession planning and leadership development—to create a long-term process for managing the talent roster across their organizations. In most companies, the two practices reside in separate functional silos, but they are natural allies because they share a vital and fundamental goal: getting the right skills in the right place. https://hbr.org/2003/12/developing-your-leadership-pipeline
Here are 4 areas you can consider to evolve and foster a new generation of leaders for the modern workplace:
1. The Why of Change
It didn’t take Simon Sinek to tell us this is important (he just tapped into a universal desire). By age 4, people all want to know “Why?” Especially when things change (and they do – a lot faster these days. )
- When your organization has widespread, shared passion for Purpose, Vision, Strategy – it unleashes high performance. Need proof?
- In their book ‘Built to Last’, James Collins and Jerry Porras revealed that purpose and value driven organizations outperformed the general market and comparison companies by 15:1 and 6:1, respectively.
- In their book ‘Corporate Culture and Performance’, John Kotter and James Heskett found that firms with shared-values–based cultures enjoyed 400% higher revenues, 700% greater job growth, 1,200% higher stock prices and significantly faster profit performance, compared to competitors in similar industries.
- In his book ‘It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand for’, Roy M. Spence Jr. found that leaders who have a clearly articulated purpose and are driven to make a difference can inspire people to overcome great odds. There’s an enormous satisfaction in seeing the cultural leadership and transformation that occurs when an organization is turned on to ‘purpose’.
- Today’s leaders are carriers of the Vision: Cultivate leaders who consciously (and unconsciously) create clarity, alignment around where we’re headed and what winning looks like.
- Leadership titles and hierarchy will always have some place in our world. And, power increasingly resides in information and communication, versus titles and privilege.
- In organizations, silos AND floors are breaking down. More fluid boundaries exist in companies big and small. This is a cultural necessity to keep pace with change. Why? You can’t move at the speed of change in a competitive environment where people waste time trying to penetrateairtight silos and please the hierarchy. Or, where decision making is paralyzed by too much escalation.
- You need a communication plan that provides continuous and quick re-alignment around “Why This Change, Why Now.” People need to be connected to a bigger “Why” than making more money.
2. Unleash Curiosity – Closely followed by Why, an environment of possibility and good ideas is the new Business Capital. It requires tapping innate human curiosity (It has always been there. Most corporate environments have shut it down.)
- “What If.” You know this is in play when that air of excitement permeates a room when brainstorming on a problem. Don’t shut it down so quickly by driving to the action plan! Curiosity grows from encouraging the giddiness of possibility.
- Curiosity Leads to Ideas. Except in an environment overloaded with stress, blame-focus, constant activity, and unrealistic expectations of productivity. Ask a marathon runner to run fast against the wind and that won’t be their best race. Optimize the curiosity factor to generate more innovation.
- Be Still. Most leaders don’t know how to quiet their mind and their teams. Do you? A calm mind (the foundation of a calm team) is more creative.
- See – Feel – Do: John Kotter (Harvard University) wrote the book on how to create emotional ties to change. Creating curiosity is no different: Use visual and feeling elements more than facts, speeches, and dry spreadsheets.
3. Mirror the Twitter Rule.
“Who do People Follow” over “Who Has What Titles.” How well does your company recognize and encourage effective leadership behaviors in every role? This requires people with Titles to shift perception of their role:
- Not giving orders, or having all the answers.
- Enabling, creating, adapting.
- The role of leader in this world is to ask effective (and frequent) questions: “What do you need to succeed?” “How can I help?” “What ideas do you have to make things better?”
- Leaders need to set aside ego and the quest for power, for this to work. That itself is a cultural journey.
- If you embed questions and the “Follow Rule” into the fabric of every meeting, every promotion, every key decision – cultural leadership takes hold pretty quickly.
- “Alpha” people eclipse creative energy – it’s corporate entropy.
4. Grow People (not necessarily careers)
- In most companies, growing people is about creating bench strength – ie, filling internal positions within management ranks. Unfortunately, this eliminates a majority of your people’s aspirations to grow (ie, management is not a desire or even a remote possibility for many).
- Most companies are re-examining (or dumping) outdated performance management via the annual review, in favor of real-time, dynamic feedback cycles. Teaching people how to provide meaningful, relevant coaching and mentoring, that is not stale and meaningless. Teaching leaders to become coaches is one of the most effective changes you can make to develop cultural leadership.
- If you cultivate an environment in which leaders and managers are constantly looking for the people who need and want the next challenge, you build more Leaders Without Titles.
- Proper structure is the key. Leaders are not babysitters, caregivers or drill sergeants – they are active coaches and constantly fostering a positive environment where people can get things done quickly and easily.
- More than ever, organizations need to be teaching leaders their job IS cultural leadership – to retain top talent and remove barriers to people doing their best work. There are basic steps to this; yet few companies practice them as a discipline.
Give it up for the leaders who get the power of cultural leadership, and are tuned into the basic facts of business life today: Growing People = Growing Profits.