Leaders determine where to spend their attention (time) and resources (both human and money) in their organizations. And the way they do that communicates to the employees what the organization values, which drives organizational culture.
This contributor to culture is one that can rocket launch a company to be a high performing organization or condemn it to being one where the employees are underperforming due to death by 1000 paper cuts from leadership.
This expression is derived from the idea that a small cut will not kill you; but if you get enough of them, you could bleed to death. It comes from an ancient form of torture, where the condemned person was subjected to a number of less devastating wounds over time, until the accumulation of damage eventually became fatal.
This type of “torture” happens every day in organizations.
Here are a few examples of how leaders often do this:
- You can’t tout that your company has a culture of learning and then slash the training and education budget when the stock price dips.
- You can’t say that safety is vital to the success of your business and let a Compliance Manager position go unfilled for six months.
- You can’t tell your employees that teamwork is essential for your work group to function properly and then book calls during your weekly team meeting.
How many times have you heard “people are our most valuable asset” and looked around at example after example of actions that belie this? The classic one is when an organization freezes wages or sets standard wage increases across the board, thus allowing underperformers the same monetary reward as outstanding performers.
This behavior is a sure way to breed mistrust and create an environment of inequity.
Living organizational values is key to a strong corporate culture
“When people honor each other, there is a trust established that leads to synergy, interdependence, and deep respect. Both parties make decisions and choices based on what is right, what is best, what is valued most highly.” ~ Blaine Lee, author of The Power Principle: Influence with Honor
As a leader, the way you allocate your attention and resources is all about congruence between your stated organizational values and the reality of your lived values and observed behaviors.
The upside of living the values and diminishing the paper cuts is that it allows the employees to have a direct line of sight to their leaders’ authenticity and commitment. It’s only when employees feel the lack of authenticity from their leaders that they can’t buy into the culture.
Are your employees inspired to follow you?
A key leadership trait is the ability to inspire followership. In addition to supplying a shared vision and direction, leaders must develop a relationship in which employees are inspired to follow them.
The successful leadership relationship inspires people to become more than they might have been without the relationship. Following an effective leader, people accomplish and achieve more than they may ever have dreamed possible.
"Objectives are not fate; they are direction. They are not commands; they are commitments. They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize the resources and energies of the business for the making of the future." ~ Peter Drucker
The final note in my four part series on the topic of culture creation is this: as a leader, you are under the microscope every day. Not just by stock markets, shareholders or their peers. Your employees, the vital human resource of your organization, are watching to determine whether they would follow you through a fire, support you when you stumble, or build protective defenses to shield themselves.
So pay attention and know that culture is ultimately created by:
- Actions and behaviors of leaders
- What leaders pay attention to
- What gets rewarded and what gets punished
- What leaders allocate attention and resources to
With these points in mind… is the culture being created in your organization the culture your organizations needs to be successful?