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Creating Leaders in your Organization, Part 5: Leading and Organizational Culture

Perhaps the most important shift in the culture of organizations that will enable the emergence of leadership is changing the attitude most organizations have about breakdowns.

As noted in the last part of this series, “breakdown” is the term we use for the obstacles and gaps one inevitably faces in setting out to produce extraordinary new results.

In many, if not most, cases, organizational culture tends to suppress information about breakdowns from being communicated.  When organizations treat breakdowns as things that should not occur, when witch-hunts occur, and/or when the messengers get shot, the opportunity for breakthrough is lost.

When I presented some of this material to a top executive in a Fortune 500 company, his reaction was: “Oh, I see.  My job is to create breakdowns.”  He understood that the pathway to extraordinary results was paved with breakdowns, and that breakthroughs almost never occur outside of the context of a commitment to produce them.

Another aspect of culture is the way that commitments are communicated and listened to.  Talk cannot be cheap.  What people say should be what they are held to account for.  Also, people are not permitted to avoid making commitments by making pseudo-promises, saying things like “I’ll do my best” or “We’ll give it a shot.”  Organizations that are conducive to developing leadership distinguish between uncommitted and committed speaking and have relatively little tolerance for the former.

Leaders Creating Leaders

If it is true that great leaders create an atmosphere for new leaders to emerge, then it should be possible to identify great leaders by examining the careers of people who had been led by them.  If the premise were correct, then the work history of younger leaders would show that they all worked for particular people during their earlier careers.  Another indicator is an executive listing people who have worked for her or him as potential replacements.  These people, then, would be the leaders who foster the development of new leaders.

I believe that the statement at the beginning of this section is true.  However, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to support this belief.  Rather than looking for proof, consider the consequences of acting as if it were true.  Establishing a culture in a large organization that puts value on having experienced leaders nurturing, training, and enabling new leaders to emerge will, by itself, engender the behavior.  All of the actions described in this series will be seen as a means to achieve the end of creating more leaders, and the data will take care of itself.

Here is a summary of the major points made in this series:

  • Around leaders, talk is not cheap.  Leaders mean what they say and hold the people around them to the same standard.  The word of a leader actually means something.
  • Leaders naturally develop leadership in others both by example and, by delegating powerfully, empowering them with both responsibility and authority.
  • Leaders stand behind the people to whom they have delegating authority.
  • Great leaders are also great followers.
  • On an effective team (a “hot team”), you often cannot tell the leaders from the followers.
  • Leaders make and listen for declarations.
  • Leaders create a culture where a breakdown is seen as an opportunity, not as something to be suppressed or hidden.


Thanks for reading! If you haven’t yet, read…

Part 1: Talk is Not Cheap

Part 2: Leadership and Delegation

Part 3: Leadership and Listening

Part 4: Leading Teams

To see some more results of implementing these principles, see our case studies.

If you’d like to talk about building this into your organization, reach out to us here.

© ALS Consulting 2014

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