Leadership – Responsibility – Culture; They Are Inextricably Linked

“I have to lay off employees.” “My production is down and waste is up.” “My competitors are beating me but we have the exact same product.” “Why won’t these people do a better job?”  Sound familiar? I have been a part of leadership in organizations, for a long time, and in several organizations. I have heard all of these expressions and more. All similar in one respect. The solution to preventing or correcting each of them can be found in the same place – Leadership.   To paraphrase an old axiom I learned in the Army, “Leadership is responsible for everything that does or does not happen in their area of responsibility.” Yes, leadership is responsible.

Leaders build teams that are expected to achieve results. They are accountable for those results regardless of circumstances. When leaders build teams they must drive performance through a variety of methods.  This is everything from establishing and communicating a vision to inspiring others to their maximum potential. It is through this that leaders should accomplish what they are charged with doing. Leaders remain responsible for everything that does or does not happen in their area of responsibility. That is the standard to which they should be held. Leaders are responsible. There are no excuses for a failure of leadership.

I firmly believe that; Leaders are responsible. Whether we call them managers or leaders, let us not debate semantics here, they are responsible. So who do we pick for these all-important positions? Sometimes the right person. All too often, it is not. We pick on longevity, Alma matter, family relationship, someone exactly like us, the best technician, etc. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes it is not very right at all. In some cases, the potential is there, but the skills are weak or missing. So what do we do about that?

We have all seen leadership and management development programs in our organizations. Some were successful and some were not. Sometimes the company replaces their existing management programs with new ones; and then they replace them again. Once again, a common theme will develop here. What is that? Good management and leadership development programs are successful and last because they are long-term investments supported by a commitment to measurement, assessment, feedback reinforcement and more development. That cycle never stops. If your manager or leader development program doesn’t include those steps, forever, then you might as well not waste your money on what you do have.

So we have two themes here. One says leaders are responsible and the other says leadership and leadership development should be a long term investment that never stops.

Ideally, manager or leadership development is part of an organizational succession plan. Very simply put, you are developing future leadership and managers for your company before you need them. This gives you one immediate benefit and one long term. The immediate benefit is an employee who has skills that can immediately be put to use; because as we all know a title alone does not make a manager or leader. The long term benefit goes to both retention and company growth. Employees who feel invested in are more inclined to stay. Having trained people for future placement as leaders and managers helps the company grow. It really is that simple. The hard part is what you start out with.

So how should we pick our company leaders and how should we develop our leadership? The following standards should apply;

  • It starts with culture and values. If those align then everything else begins to fall in place. “Culture eats strategy” attributed to Peter Drucker, is critical in understanding this.
  • It follows with a sense of responsibility; of ownership for ones decisions and the outcomes that come from those decisions. Remember, Leaders are responsible.
  • Leaders are selfless. Merriam defines selfless as “having no concern for self” That doesn’t mean they are not concerned for their own well-being, that is a near impossible standard. It means they put the needs of the organization and the people they are responsible for ahead of their own. Or, as the US Armed Forces have always held, “Leaders eat last.”

So what is organizational culture and how does it impact the business. Edgar H. Schein wrote, Culture is “A pattern of basic assumptions that the group has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration” Sometimes your existing culture supports your objectives. Sometimes it does not. When it does not you either change your culture or change your strategy to align with it. The latter is simpler than the former. The message? Hire for culture first and skills next. The rest will take care of itself.

This country has the finest workforce in the world. We are the most productive anywhere. Yet, so many companies choose mediocrity and untrained people to lead and manage that workforce. On top of that they don’t align the organizations culture with how they train or develop their leaders. They then expect a new strategy to accomplish new goals and objectives. This is synonymous with expecting new outcomes by doing the same thing; the definition of insanity often attributed to Einstein. Fixing the disconnect can be as simple as accepting or embracing your culture, then letting that culture determine how to achieve your desired outcomes. An easily fixed problem if you have the right skills, knowledge and determination; and hire for culture first.