How Does Leadership affect Workplace culture?

What’s a leader for, besides the fact that someone needs to occupy the top spot and be paid the most money? 

How does a good leader lead? And how does leadership affect the culture in the workplace?

We all know how bad leaders lead – we’ve all heard about, or directly survived the bosses from hell who create organisational cultures that are poisonous.  

Bad leaders preside over organisational cultures where only ‘top performers’ or those in the cliquey inner circle receive recognition – for as long as they are in favour, that is – and everybody else’s belief in their abilities to learn and perform, and to be an asset to the organisation, is eroded by the normalisation of negative interactions.  

Symptoms of a toxic work culture include:

  • Endless Unconstructive, critical feedback.
  • Little to no acknowledgement of strengths, achievements or potential. 
  • A culture of blame and fear of exposing oneself to risk. 
  • A prevailing sense of worthlessness in team members, a precursor to demotivation.
  • A feared an unapproachable leader.
  • Low trust.

When leadership affects culture in this way it creates conditions where members of the team view themselves and one another as liabilities, not assets. 

Trust and co-operation break down, an unhealthy, survivalist sense of competition takes over. In these conditions, people tend to retract into themselves. 

They hunker down and start to focus on covering their arses rather than keep their gaze on the horizon of how the organisation could continually improve and go over and above fulfilling its basic objectives.

The net result, besides having a weakened organisation, is talent wasted and the morale of the people who are supposed to be the bedrock of the business destroyed.

It’s a dark picture but unfortunately, it is the reality in workplaces where leaders haven’t grasped the responsibility they have to create an organisational culture that will best support the business and the people who make the magic happen.

In contrast, the best leaders lead by optimising organisational culture. When leaders know how to create an organisational culture that energises and sustains people rather than grind them down, great things happen.

Leaders who know how to optimise an organisation’s culture can create the conditions in which every single person who makes up the whole has the opportunity to grow, to keep stretching towards their potential and to weather the inevitable challenges and storms. 

They create the conditions in which people feel motivated and supported to excel, and not just tread water. 

The best leaders create an expansive culture. Where, despite the inevitable stress work involves, team members experience enough positive emotion, enough of the time, to remain optimistic in their ability to influence outcomes for the best. Enough positive emotion to remain outward-looking, curious and alert to opportunities to improve. 

In other words, good leadership affects organisational culture in a way that makes it conducive to success and makes sure its people recognise and embrace the unique role they each play in that success. 

It makes sure the people know that they count.

Symptoms of an expansive work culture include:

  • Incentives for cross-departmental co-operation and interest in one another’s objectives.
  • A team that is given ample opportunity to learn about each other and form connections with one another outside of the task-related activity.
  • Personal initiative and responsible experimentation are rewarded, whatever the outcomes and team-members can face the consequences of their initiative without judgment or shame.
  • Team members who know where to access extra support within the organisation when faced with high challenge and are actively encouraged to ask for it.
  • Leaders who model the vulnerability that healthy risk-taking and growth requires. Leaders who are open about their misjudgments and lessons learned the hard way.
  • High trust.

Leaders will tend to create an organisational culture that reflects their values. If a leader values only the law of the jungle, then the chances of them presiding over an expansive organisational culture are narrow. 

If a leader values human-beings’ almost unlimited potential to grow, given the right support, then we’re in business!  

Values do not exist as abstract principles, values only exist in action.

A leader can create a positive organisational culture if they consistently embody the values that underpin such a culture. 

They embody the values purely through behaviour that is seen and felt by those they lead. 

Put very simple, leaders have a positive influence on organisational culture by reliably acting in a certain way:

  • They act like they trust people.
  • They act like they’re a human who is aware of their vulnerabilities and not afraid to show them.
  • They act like someone who knows when challenge increased, so too must support.
  • They act like they are interested in new things.
  • They listen as if people have something to teach them.
  • They act like initiative, experimentation and curiosity are valuable in their own right, regardless of outcomes.
  • They act like they want to know who the people in the team are outside of their job role.

‘People look at what you do and not what you say,’ as the old saying goes. 

A powerful leader embodies the organisational culture that they want to see at the macro level, in their micro, everyday actions and interactions with the team.

The true measure of any leader is the culture they create. 

You can speak to one of our resilience experts about bringing more resilience into your workplace. Get in touch today.