Written by Simon Tarver, 7/02/2020
Being a leader or manager in an organisation can be a lonely place.
We are probably all too conscious of how uncertain the world is outside our own organisation, but what does it matter? Surely, as long as we all pull together, we can overcome any challenge…
If only that were true.
A barrier to cultural unity
All too often in my experience as both a director of a business and coach to senior leaders, I encounter a dynamic that can get in the way; the ‘them’ and ‘us’ dynamic which, if left unresolved, can lead to failure for both ‘them’ and ‘us’. Its presence serves no-one aspiring to create a united and energised culture of ‘one-ness’, a team equipped and strengthened to deal with the uncertainties we all face. It is widely accepted that the best organisations today should have a purpose (or a unifying mission) and a vision (a vivid and detailed description) of what it is trying to achieve. Typically, this is developed by a board of directors or a set of trustees and it is then handed over to the management team to make it happen. This works to a certain extent but in the VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous) things change seemingly every five minutes; and managers and leaders who try their best to lead the organisation and move it forward (using both hard skills and soft skills) can feel the system or processes are pushing back against them.
Perfection is a myth
In some organisations, employees have incredibly, and some might argue, unrealistically high expectations of their managers and leaders. It can take just one moment of human fallibility by a manager, for team members to take a position against the whole of “management” and believe that they are right, and “management” is wrong. In my time as a consultant I have observed that this response from “employees” can manifest as groups of people demonising management rather than aspiring to help or understand them and help them improve their practice. And even if a blame game occurs, “only he who is without fault, can cast a stone”. After all, who of us is perfect?
The reality of ‘them and us’
Unfortunately, the day-to-day experience of many is that you are often damned no matter what you do. Or so it can feel sometimes. You can try to “do the right thing” and get it wrong in someone’s eyes. You could do nothing, believing that this is the best approach and you are considered to be ignoring the issue therefore still getting it wrong. And rather than your employees coming to join you in finding a better conclusion they preach sometimes from a moral high ground expecting you to solve all their issues – after all you are a “manager”, so you should be able to access that management magic and save their world!
The team mindset
Truly strong teams have employees and managers who support and challenge each other in balance with feedback flowing as the lifeblood in all directions. All members recognise that while consistent, high performance is critical, things can and will go wrong sometimes. In the VUCA world, there is greater strength in numbers. As a consultant and leadership coach, I am often gratified to see the power that unfolds as a result of a heightened sense of teamworking and unity of purpose. Not only that but creating a truly inclusive culture is not just part of a wider compliance and CSR initiative but a competitive ‘must’ because it fosters true creativity, challenge and diversity of thinking which leads to greater innovation and a more rewarding journey for organisations. I would say to both parties where I hear the words, ‘they don’t understand’, or ‘they just don’t listen’, think of this as an opportunity to reframe to ‘us’ and consider ‘what can we do together to remove barriers?’ thus creating a oneness of culture and a more unified approach. And remember, this shift is not a one-way street.
The journey towards an inclusive culture
Consider how much easier strategic execution and day to day problem-solving would be if colleagues were more forgiving of each other and our human systems were robust enough to allow alternative ways to be explored collaboratively, with good humour and a shared commitment to find a better way forward. This approach only truly comes about with a clear understanding of purpose and vision of the journey we are taking. Our structures, systems and processes must be robust yet flexible. Our culture must be strong enough to take the ups and downs, the knocks and bangs. That culture must be one that the whole team can be engaged and empowered to join in, at a level where they feel able and comfortable. The great thing about this is that once all colleagues are on the same journey, the problems are shared by the whole team, the solutions are co-owned and the results and the successes can be enjoyed and celebrated by all. To find out more about how we can help you with your culture and leadership challenges, contact me directly.