10. 10 Years – 10 Truths

10: Leadership Culture Change is Every Leader’s Job 

Here’s the 10th post in my 10 Years – 10 Truths series.  

Check out the release of the revised edition of my book, Accountable Leaders. 

In our latest research, 88.7% of C-Suite leaders and senior executives said that having a strong leadership culture was critical to the future success of their organization.  

Who would argue this point? Having a strong leadership culture is crucial to effective strategy execution, and in inspiring everyone to step up, demonstrate ownership, and deliver results. 

But here’s the problem: most organizations don’t have strong leadership cultures to start with. Our research reveals that 60% of organizations we surveyed said they have strong leadership cultures.  

The leadership culture plays a pivotal role in an organization’s overall performance. Understanding its nuances and implications is crucial for any transformation effort. 

Leading any kind of transformation is daunting and I can understand the doubts these leaders have. Companies fail more than they succeed. For example, McKinsey has found that only one-third of companies believe their transformation efforts are successful. Not an encouraging statistic. 

Why do companies have such a poor track record? Well, our research revealed several barriers to leadership culture change. 

The Top Barriers to Leadership Culture Change 

The C-Suite leaders in our research were asked to rank the top barriers to leadership culture change. In the chart below are the top five barriers. 

As you will see, three of the top five all have to do with leaders, whether through their lack of buy-in, being incapable of leading change, or resisting changes altogether. 

What I’ve come to learn over the last ten years, is that organizations need to do a better job of supporting leadership at these critical times.  

The other thing I’ve learned is that many leaders think leadership culture change is something only senior executives own. We work with leaders to understand that leadership culture change is every leader’s job. Full stop! The sooner your leaders can wrap their heads around this, the better. 

I have always been a big fan of the work of Dr. Edgar H. Schein from the MIT Sloan School of Management. In his book, Organizational Culture and Leadership, he wrote, “The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.”  

Schein was one of the first thought leaders to make the connection between culture and leadership. He suggested that leaders are the ones who create culture. They do so based on the daily behaviors they demonstrate. It is those repeated behaviors that set the tone for everyone else in the organization.  

Every leader must understand their collective accountability for the leadership culture of their organizations. Whether you are a frontline manager, middle manager, director, executive, or C-Suite leader, you are all accountable for the organization’s leadership culture. What you do matters, every, single, day.

Check out the newest and updated edition of my book, The Leadership Contract:

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