8 Ruminations on Leadership and Organizational Culture

Ideas and jobs.

March 12, 2015
Great leaders learn new things, grow their organization, trust their people, and listen

Leadership within an organizational context is full of complexity, nuance, accountability, and a responsibility for myriad tasks and outcomes. In higher education, most of our organizational structures are constructed of hierarchies that are theoretically meant to create opportunities for day-to-day success and career advancement. Leadership affects morale which in turn impacts organizational culture. Once an organization's overall sense of morale is affected, it can be quite difficult to trust, grow, learn, and lead within that environment.

Since the age of 16 when I first started experiencing organizations from within an employment context, I have had a couple of decades to think about organizational culture and leadership. Working / consulting for the past 5 years in higher education in the US, Mexico, Canada, and the UK has given me insights into a variety of organizations, leaders, communication styles, and thoughts. Here, in no particular order, are 8 ruminations on leadership and organizational culture that I initially shared on Twitter. I've included additional thoughts / context to the original short-form tweets:

There has to be a reason why they pay you a salary...
This one is fairly simple and yet it seemed to resonate quite a bit with folks in Twitter land. I understand that the "big picture" is not always clearly visible. However, if you're feeling like you're earning a salary just to fill an organizational slot, and that your talents aren't been appreciated, maybe it's time to move on.

Asking “why” something is done a certain way and/or questioning things is a natural human tendency...
If your organization penalizes you for asking questions, they are sending you a message about how they value your inquisitive mind. People who ask questions are usually invested in an organization. Reward people who care enough to ask questions.

We are always learning...
Good leaders know a lot, great leaders know that they will never know everything. This is related to the aspect of paying folks a salary to do jobs that they focus their talents upon. Leadership can sometimes mean just stepping aside and saying "I don't know." 99% of the time, someone within the organization will be able to fill in your knowledge gaps.

Ideas are wonderful...
There are all sorts of ideas. Ideation is how organizations improve, grow, and create great things. A leader who understands the power of ideas will always do their best to nurture ideation as an organizational strength. Will all ideas be implemented, probably not. However, encouraging people within an organization builds a culture of positivity.

You have one job...
Leadership does not equal micro-managing. Sharing organizational responsibilities is one thing, trying to take someone else's job is something entirely different. Trust people to do the jobs that they were hired to do.

Listening is everything...
Listening requires discipline, patience, and care. When you value what someone else is saying, you will always listen to them. Not listening to the members of your organization shows that you do not value their thoughts. Listening is such an easy way to boost morale. When people feel that they are truly being heard, great things will happen.

Time should always be “made” in order to learn new things...
Organizations thrive when everyone is focused on learning. When a leader says that they “don't have time to learn” how to do something (I get this a lot with regards to social media), it sends a message to the organization: learning is not a priority. However, when leaders make time to learn, everyone benefits.

You asked for it...
Feedback represents an opportunity for learning. There is nothing more demoralizing for members of an organization than when feedback is solicited that was never actually intended to be “received.” Leaders who ask for feedback should always value it. Valuing feedback means that you value the person who gave it to you.

One of the most profound aspects of being a consultant has been the fact that regardless of what I am brought in to consult about, (social media, digital identity, leadership, career development, strategic communications, etc.) the culture and leadership of an organization is always a core aspect of the conversation.

[Organizational] culture, as is often said, eats strategy for breakfast.


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