Guest Post: What does good cultural leadership look like?

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This week brings the first guest blog post for The Art of Navigation, and I am pleased and excited that Denise McQuaid has agreed to share her thoughts on leadership and organisational culture.

My conversations with business leaders are off to an intriguing start for 2019. Brexit is of course featuring as a major concern, but I am hearing time and time again about a specific fear, centred around acquiring and developing new capabilities and talent to support their growth plans. Added to this is a concern about how this impacts the culture of their organisation.

The war for talent rages on. Business leaders are feeling that pressure more than ever, despite the many programmes to attract and retain talented teams.

I have been hearing three dominant themes:

Time: Leaders are struggling to reconcile the time challenges of trying to grow their business and focus on their long-term goals, whilst simultaneously investing in their employees and finding ways to differentiate themselves in a flooded marketplace.

Skills: Leaders are recognising that they are not knowledgeable enough about the emerging skills that could add value to their business. They are having a problem with establishing the metrics for the new skills that are emerging and how these employees might fit into their organisation.

Technology: They are struggling to quantify the impact of technology and to understand how things like AI, big data and evolving platforms fit into their business plans.

Together these concerns often mean that the ‘softer’ aspects like organisational culture are not addressed or are a lower priority. I believe it essential that this balance is redressed. Establishing the right culture is an essential part of creating businesses that find the right answers to these other questions.

What does good cultural leadership look like?

Most businesses have well established priorities: grow the business, improve operational excellence, innovate and, possibly, transform. In my opinion, leaders must also make the following themes - that mainly describe culture - equal imperatives:

Be role models. I believe this is an integral part to business success. Leaders must be transparent about their own need to learn and develop, and be willing to share how they are going about it. They must embrace vulnerability. Not understanding new technologies is not a failing - understanding what you don’t know is knowing too!

Reinforce the value of learning. Leaders must put learning at the heart of the organisational culture. Reinforcing learning across your team is vital, as is the celebration of both the learning and the outcomes.  This is especially true when the project wasn't completed as smoothly as everyone would've liked.

Build sustainable processes to support development. Leaders should be expected to coach and develop their people. At a minimum, everyone should know what they need to improve and where they can go in the organisation. Don’t let time and lack of understanding stop the support you give your team.

Reinforce shared values. Employees should be able to link their everyday tasks and responsibilities to the values in the organisation. People need to understand why what they do is important.

Leverage problems as opportunities for real world learning and development. The idea of an ‘acceptable failure’ needs to be created and defined. Removing fear is key and becoming an organisation that sees problems as opportunities will open a much more communicative and safer environment.

In many ways these are not strategic, long-term actions. They can be achieved quickly and without huge cost. Their implementation will lead to a culture where the broader problems around time, skills and technology are much more likely to be addressed in a rational and effective way.

Find Denise on LinkedIn