Is your company’s leadership culture an asset or a liability?

Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, once said that a company’s culture is its number one asset.

What’s amazing to me is she expressed this idea back in 2011, even before she became CEO of Big Blue. Rometty was speaking at the Yale CEO Summit. She told the audience that culture is a defining issue that will distinguish the most successful businesses from the rest of the pack. Like a lot of great leaders, she got it right eight years ago. Now it seems, everyone understands the importance of company culture, and it’s a topic that is getting much attention. We’ve also seen examples of what can happen to a company when they don’t get culture right.

Now one of the challenges I find is with the term culture itself. For many senior executives I work with it is seen as a fuzzy concept.  I worked with a CEO once who referred to culture as a bowl of Jello, “this jiggly thing that you can’t quite grasp.” I remember laughing when he said that as it was a funny statement. However, it pointed out the problem we have with culture – everyone knows they need a strong one, but few know what it is or how to build it.

I have found the way forward is to talk about leadership culture instead. The reason is that ultimately, it is leaders who create culture in the way they behave, what they value and the tone they set for employees. Senior executives can wrap their heads around their company’s leadership culture, and many see it is a priority.  For example, we surveyed over 2,000 global senior executives and found that 96 percent believe that having a strong leadership culture is critical.  That’s good news. The bad news is only 33 percent are confident that their leadership culture is strong enough to drive the success of the organization.

What about your organization? If you were to survey your senior executives, do you think they would see leadership culture as being critical? Do you believe they would feel they have a weak one or a strong one in place? Would it be an asset or a liability?

Below are some questions we ask when working with our clients. They will help you gain greater clarity into the current state of your company’s leadership culture:

  1. Has your organization created a clear set of leadership expectations for your leaders?
  2. Do your leaders struggle to collaborate, to the point that they actively avoid all efforts to consult and learn from each other?
  3. Are there entrenched silos within your organization, that means leaders do not know what their peers are doing in other areas of the same company?
  4. Do your leaders tend to work at cross-purposes and resist any suggestion that they support each other?
  5. Is there a lack of clarity among leaders around the company’s overall business strategy?
  6. Do your leaders hoard information from peers and colleagues?
  7. Is there friction and even animosity among departments and functions within your organization?

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of the questions above, you have some work to do to strengthen your leadership culture.  There is a good chance that it is a liability, and not an asset. 

This week’s Gut Check for Leaders asks: Is your company’s leadership culture an asset or a liability?

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© 2019 Dr. Vince Molinaro (Leadership Contract Inc.)


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