Does Your Leadership Style Fit Your Culture?

When corporate leadership and employees are asked to define their workplace culture, they often have trouble articulating a cogent response. Because workplace culture is the character or personality of a company, it isn’t hard to understand why it can be difficult to put into words. The personality and character of a company are largely dependent on the actions or behaviors of those within the company. At corporate giants like Amazon, it’s easy for team members to repeat the CEO’s assessment of the culture—for instance, Jeff Bezos’ description of Amazon’s “gladiator culture.” But what about smaller companies? What about your organization?

Culture Is in the Eye of the Beholder

An exercise I commonly perform is to sit down with leaders of small and medium-size organizations and ask them to define their company’s culture on a sticky note. It isn’t uncommon to collect as many different definitions of the company’s culture as there are people in the room. Culture can be a hard thing to pin down at many companies. So if you don’t know how to define your company’s culture, how can you have an effective leadership style that reflects your culture?

In today’s work environment, Millennials are starting to drive the culture. If your culture isn’t currently attracting and retaining this generation into your workforce, in the not-too-distant future, you will struggle to create a corporate culture that attracts Millennials. One of the most common traits among Millennials is their need for collaboration at work. So where do you begin?

You must to be able to define your company culture clearly. Take a look around at the workspaces inside your office. What do they say? If you claim to have a collaborative culture but employees are closed off from one another, are you really that collaborative? What do your common areas look like? How often are they used by groups of employees? If common areas aren’t being utilized, your culture may not be as collaborative as you think.

Collect Employee Feedback

To improve your workplace culture, you may have hung some trendy sayings on the walls or placed a couple of mission statements around the workspace. But do they really define how your employees feel about working at your company? As a leader, you must sometimes ask tough questions like “How do you describe working here to your family?” Or “Would you recommend this as a place to work to your friends?” You may even muster up the courage to ask, “If you were offered the same pay and benefits from another company, would you leave?”

If you aren’t usually open to feedback, you may need to get creative to collect it. A successful way to do that might be to send out a pulse survey that promises complete anonymity. That way, you’ll get the honest answers you seek, not necessarily the ones you want to hear.

Bottom Line

A word of caution: Be careful about claiming to have a culture that doesn’t exist at your organization. You’ll only succeed in developing negative feelings among your team members. For example, don’t claim to have an open-door policy, but open your door to employees only when it’s convenient for you. Don’t check e-mail or look at your phone while a team member is trying to utilize the open-door policy. And don’t say you have a culture that encourages honest conversations if you tend to interrupt employees or dispute every idea they bring you. We’ve all sat in meetings at which leaders end up being the only ones speaking because we don’t want to bring up ideas that are likely to be shot down.

It’s important to have a clear understanding of your culture so you can lead your team more effectively. If you’re feeling bold, pass out sticky notes during your next meeting and ask each person to define your company culture.

Jimmy Daniel is a talent management strategist for F&H Solutions Group and a contributor to Arizona Employment Law Letter. He can be reached at 901-291-1518 or jdaniel@fhsolutionsgroup.com.