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Poor leadership is only 50% of the cause of a toxic culture. #Are you responsible for the other 50%?

Is leadership solely responsible for poor culture in organisations OR are you responsible for it too?

In this day and age, you don’t have to be an expert to recognise that technology has been the driving force behind change – and it’s only getting faster. 

Just look around and you will see that most people have a device in their hand – including our children and youth.

As an adult of the humble Cassette and VCR era, I have been known to complain about the kids and youth spending too much time on technology and how impersonal customer service has become. Think self-service registers at supermarkets and McDonalds. The reality though, is that is now the norm. 

As the younger generation gets older – they will expect technology to provide even quicker and easier services. And if we are still worried about technology taking over, it’s too late – that time has already arrived. 

It’s here now.

Why does that matter? What does that have to do with organisations?

Because, if your organisation isn’t using technology to innovate – someone else is innovating for you and your organisation will become obsolete soon enough. New technologies mean new ways of doing and delivering services to customers regardless of industry or sector.

And as individuals, if we aren’t adding value to those technologies and leaning to do things using those new ways, we will become obsolete too. 

Change doesn’t wait for anyone – so why do we expect the organisations that we work for to wait for us?

What does that have to do with Culture and Leadership?

It comes down to our attitudes in relation to change – regardless of whether you are in a leadership position or not. 

I believe that the maturity of our thinking determines our outlook on life and that who we become is impacted by the choices we make because of our experiences or despite them.

We get to choose whether to consciously accept the change or not in order for our actions to follow suit.

I have no doubt, that we’ve all had some experiences both negative and/or positive concerning technology or how it was lead. Nevertheless, it is still our RESPONSE-ability to choose how we RESPOND.

We can either blame those that lead change initiatives that are taking place in our work environments, or we can accept that change is a normal part of life and adapt so that we can take advantage of the opportunities they present to reinvent ourselves.

What we tell ourselves matters!

On the other hand, we could REACT because either we don’t agree, aren’t ready yet or our opinions weren’t considered and we are offended because we weren’t respected for our expertise.

That may be so, however when we react and resist at whatever cost, it will eventually contribute to a toxic blame culture.

But isn’t poor leadership the blame for the poor culture you say? 

There are definitely cases where that is true. But I don’t think we can lay all the blame at leadership’s feet.

Sometimes we need to look in the mirror and look at our own behaviours and the actions that follow.

Leaders are people too and they are trying their best to do their jobs. They are not a different species. The leaders that I work with in a coaching capacity, strive to learn daily to become better leaders.

Much has been written about how to lead and what makes a good leader. An Amazon search returned over 90,000 books and a Google search returned 8,080,000,000 results on the subject at the time of writing this article. I can assure you that most leaders are tapping into this material to become better people.

What has been my experience of leadership?

Academically, I’ve studied leadership as part of my MBA back in 2006, learning various styles and approaches. I’ve learnt about how to use images like coach, nurturer, director, navigator and interpreter etcetera. I’ve leant about power versus influence, leadership values, traits, motivations and the use of different theories such as the contingency theory.

I’ve also learnt to lead as an elder child in a big Polynesian family full of strong characters, as a 1st XV rugby sports captain at high school, as a mentor and unit leader in church-run youth clubs and by watching leaders within my immediate circle such as my grandfather, father, uncles and aunties who are High Chiefs in our Samoan culture.

In the last 15+ years, I’ve also planned and implemented change as a leader and Chief Operations Officer and have tried using all those different lessons and types of leadership images.

Further-still, I’ve worked with businesses as a Coach and Consultant helping them to build high-performance teams or to fix culture issues.

My experiences have shown me, that regardless of the leadership approach used by leaders, there is always a small minority that will resist and will not buy-in to change. Left unchecked and unaddressed, this minority will derail a change project and affect culture negatively.

Are you that person?

Let me be very clear here. I’m not suggesting that I’m only addressing people that are not in leadership positions or people that are in leadership roles. 

My experience has shown me that people in supervisory and management positions, as well as front line staff, can be resisters.

So, I dare you to be honest with yourself and ask whether you are part of the problem

Ask yourself whether your behaviour positively contributes to the culture of the place.

Ask yourself what stops YOU from becoming part of the solution. Ask yourself if your ego is getting in the way.

Ask yourself whether you are in the wrong environment and whether your journey doesn’t align with the business goals and objectives. 

Everybody has a personal story, including leaders – and they are potentially dealing with something that we know nothing about.

Technology and market changes, do not wait for someone else to fix your culture. Make a decision and act before its too late.

Suggested Solutions

Leaders and managers – I know its a tough job, especially in a politically correct environment where bullying allegations appear to be the norm. Be bold and have that tough conversation with someone that appears to be a resister. Ask questions to understand and help them to buy-in. Help them to understand that you are doing your best. Help them to help you. Help them to stay or help them to leave – because if you don’t, your stress level will increase until you do something about it. Otherwise, you will end up suffering burnout or a mental breakdown.

Staff and non-leaders – if your change leader appears to be blunt or dismissive, ask questions to understand what pressures they are under. Ask them questions to help them understand how you feel about not being respected for your expertise. Resist lodging that allegation and start by asking to understand how you both can add value. Perhaps they are struggling to juggle your needs whilst ensuring the business objectives are met too. Help them to see you can be part of the solution and not the problem.

PS: Until you change your thinking, you will always recycle your negative experiences.

Share my Insight and help someone else!

About the Author

Trusted advisor and implementer of transformational change, business turnaround and restructure strategies for CEOs and Boards in not-for-profits, public service and blue chip multinationals.

A visionary strategist and pragmatic operationalist with 25+ years experience that can bridge Technology, Operations & HR.

Having worked in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, he is very aware of the impact of technology changes on culture in organisations big and small.

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