How does leadership influence organizational culture?

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Debunking 5 myths about the role of leaders in creating thriving workplace cultures.

True or False: Do leaders really impact company culture?

TRUE. It is not shocking that effective leadership correlates to great organizational cultures. After all, leadership is defined as someone who has influence or authority, and leaders can reinforce values while simultaneously holding people accountable. Influence over others can be either positive or negative based on the leadership style and execution of strategy. Effective and ineffective leadership can mutually influence organizational culture. According to SHRM, leaders need to be deliberate in creating a culture where employees can thrive. Failing to build a strong culture is detrimental to employees and the bottom line.

So, what does a good leader look like?
Leaders help people grow by connecting employees to three pillars: purpose, accomplishment, and one another. When leaders connect their people, employees are 373% more likely to have a strong sense of purpose and 747% more likely to be highly engaged while at work. Simply put, a good leader cares and brings out the best in others through coaching, mentoring, and listening.

What are some important elements of company culture?
A positive culture is the foundation of an organization. Meaningful work, appreciation, wellbeing, leadership, and connection are all aspects that contribute to your culture.

Employees spending nearly 1/3 of their lives at work should feel a deep and personal connection with the work they do daily and have a sense of opportunity and motivation to be the best they can be in their role. Having a vision within their role allows people to develop and feel more connected to the work they do. Seeing new and additional opportunities at work helps employees stay engaged and contribute in an impactful way.

Don’t let top talent leave because of company culture. Invest in your employees by celebrating career milestones and achievements. Personal recognition makes employees feel valued by peers, friends, leaders, and family members.

Wellbeing is more than just physical fitness and Fitbits. In addition to physical wellness, wellbeing also encompasses emotional and social wellness. People should feel their best and your culture should reinforce a healthy lifestyle and create a sense of community.

Leaders can reinforce organizational values by helping their people grow and develop through goal setting, opportunities, and recognition. Elevate employees through frequent one-on-ones and regular feedback. When employees have open and ongoing dialogue about their work, their trust in their leader strengthens.

Our research shows there has been an increase in isolation and burnout at work in recent years. Interactions have been replaced by social media tools that were created to connect us. As a result of growing isolation in the workplace, employees are not as connected to their organization or sharing as many experiences collectively. This lack of connection inhibits collaboration and can lead to a decreased sense of belonging and purpose at work.

What aspects of company cultures can leaders really control?
Leaders have a tremendous impact on company culture. They set the agenda, prioritize work, manage, lead, and delegate. Strong leaders provide a sense of vision, purpose, mentorship, and inspiration to those they lead. Today’s diverse workforce is reshaping what it means to achieve personal and professional success. Traditional leadership styles are not resonating with younger generations who thrive upon more growth and coaching. For example, our research shows only 54% of employees report their leaders know what they do while at work, 26% feel their leader encourages collaboration, and 59% believe their leader values them. The relationship between a leader and an employee is a critical connection—if the link is weak or negative, our research shows that employees will be disconnected from other aspects of culture as well.

A changing organizational culture
It is more apparent than ever that today’s workforce needs an effective leadership style that transcends changing organizational principles.

Effective leadership shapes the employee experience, employee engagement, and wellbeing, all which are critical to a thriving workplace culture. To help leaders know where to begin, we’ve looked at the 5 myths about how leadership impacts company culture:

1. Leaders can’t rebuild company culture. FALSE. A broken culture can be a byproduct of poor leadership. Connect for a common purpose. Creating a dialogue and sense of accomplishment where people feel valued will help rebuild a culture of appreciation. According to Gallup, when done incorrectly, relying on performance reviews alone can actually cause more harm than good as they don’t inspire or improve overall performance.

2. Accountability doesn’t really matter. FALSE. Benchmarks and goals reinforce accountability in our own work, no matter the role. C-suite leaders often have trouble emotionally connecting with employees on the front line. Praise positive behavior and endorse employee behaviors that exemplify company values. Recognition programs are an excellent way to embed recognition into daily work and hold people accountable in a positive way.

3. Mentorship is ineffective. FALSE. One of the most useful things a leader can do is focus on developing the people who report to them. Leaders are in the unique position to advocate for and mentor their teams. Organizations should teach managers how to support their employees instead of just being the gatekeeper to their internal careers.

4. The annual review is effective. FALSE. Frequent and effective feedback is the new trend. No more annual or quarterly reviews. According to Gallup, managers who provide weekly feedback have employees who are 5.2x more likely to agree they receive meaningful feedback, 3.2x more likely to be motivated to do outstanding work, and 2.7x more likely to be engaged at work. Regular check-ins provide more of an opportunity to ensure employees are aligning their work to purpose, finding development opportunities, and creating a more impactful dialogue. For more ways leaders can give effective employee feedback, check out this article.

5. Employee recognition doesn’t matter. FALSE. Standup recognition moments provide opportunities for leaders (and peers) to let employees know their work is meaningful and show they are valued. For ways leaders can create a thriving team culture for important employee milestones, click here.

Want more? The 2020 Global Culture Report offers simple, actionable steps you can use right away to create an engaged, thriving workplace culture.

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