“The culture of a company is the behavior of its leaders. Leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate. You change the culture of the company by changing the behavior of its leaders.”
– Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done
One company’s culture is characterized by blaming, negativity, and disengagement. Another company is known for favoritism and turning a blind eye toward laziness and even incompetence. A third company is praised as being a place of energy, innovation, and plain, old-fashioned fun.
Three different companies; three different cultures. The reason? Three different types of leadership behavior.
It would be easy to shift the blame to the general employee base: “They don’t care … they aren’t engaged … they have bad attitudes.” But the truth of the matter is that a company’s culture starts at the top. It starts, as Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan clearly state, with “the behavior if its leaders.”
When we come into a company that has problems with blaming, negativity, and disengagement, we know that we will find leaders who either practice those traits or who tolerate them. In the same way, if a company tends to play favorites among the rank and file, we know that we will find favoritism among the highest echelons as well. In fact, when it comes to an unhealthy company culture, employee attitudes are the symptom – not the source – of the illness. The source is the leadership, because “leaders get the behavior they exhibit and tolerate.”
The good news is that this principle cuts both ways. A leader who himself or herself both demonstrates and expects energy, innovation, engagement, passion, diligence, commitment, accountability, and the rest of the traits we long to see in corporate culture will generate those behaviors in others.
And, here’s even better news: if you don’t like where your corporate culture is at today, you can change it! But the change must start at the top, because “you change the culture of the company by changing the behavior of its leaders.”
This leads to two critical questions: What is the culture of your company today? If that culture is not what you want, what behaviors do you – as a leader – need to start demonstrating and expecting?