Change, Culture & Leadership

Change, Culture & Leadership - Viewpoint

I personally consider the concept of ‘Human Leadership’ as the epitome of many excellent and existing principles combined with new philosophies and concerns for the future. Perhaps as a result of necessity or reason, or even as a consequence of natural evolution; nevertheless, could it be that what is really being presented is a new and enlightened culture?

Since a positive culture (many can exist simultaneously and in parallel) is paramount to success, I would like to offer my humble and general view on ‘culture’ and how I perceive it in relation to ‘Human Leadership’ within an Organisation. There are umpteen definitions and descriptions for ‘culture’, probably as many as there are differing classifications. Given the above, experience has taught me that people often banter the word about arbitrarily, frequently in the wrong context and without due consideration. In my consulting practice, I encounter the full cultural spectrum, including the aftermath of what I term ‘culture gone astray’; nevertheless, it is still a culture belonging to someone else and consequently requires due respect.

Albert Einstein is widely quoted as having said: “We can’t solve problems by using the kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Einstein’s words of wisdom are both profound and insightful; perhaps more importantly however, this one sentence captures the essence and necessity for managing ‘change’ using a different kind of thinking. Ironically, if any one constant of culture could be isolated and nailed down it might be that of ‘change’ or if you prefer – the process of evolution. Without this constant re-inventing (not always positive I might add) and transformation, an existing culture will eventually stagnate and wither on the vine. The good news is that like the proverbial phoenix, culture will always morph into something new – for better or for worse.

As a leader, I believe I (we) have a great responsibility not only to a Client’s immediate concerns and needs but also to those individuals destined to take control in the future. They are the generation that will inherit the mess created out of some very poor decision making processes and near-sighted (dare I say ‘selfish’) thinking endemic in today’s business practices. If we cannot provide a new and transferable methodology, then perhaps future generations will be doomed to solve their problems with the same thinking [we] pursued during the creation of their lamentable inheritance.

In my Consulting practice and in discussions with Clients, I approach the dilemma of culture and change with a different kind of thinking. I realise that as a single individual, typically one invited in by a Client for a brief period, it is not desirable or even typically to radically change or establish a new culture within a corporation (and Lord knows I would like to at times!) just because it may not be what I personally think it ought to be. In the Cooperate world, where this type of sweeping change has been achieved it is normally achieved by the replacement of a key and significant ‘personality’.

As a consultant, I must be objective in the work I undertake, while remaining considerate of my host’s culture. Moreover, as a visitor, I must also appreciate and be attentive of the fact that I have no direct control since their culture does not belong to me.

During assignments, I am frequently and inadvertently placed in a position of great trust; consequently, I can wield considerable influence whether I mean to or not. I admit at times, it would be easy to fall victim of the ‘Force’s Dark side’ and implement a quick fix; nevertheless, a ‘quick fix’ is seldom the solution. What’s really required are long-term sustainable strategies – possibly ‘Human leadership’ - is one such approach.

Some form of culture is always going to be evident in a company or organisation. The challenge is in understanding it in relation to the owner(s) i.e. the humans within it. Given the human connection, it is most appropriate to consider the ‘personality’ of its people. This, probably more than anything else, influences the overall ‘company culture’ and its subsequent reform for the future.

My personal exposition of a company is ultimately it is just a ‘tool’ used to achieve a purpose of work by people; some tools are complex and complicated and others are more basic. The analogy works since the successful use of any tool (blunt or sharp) is dependent on the user’s proficiency. Nevertheless, as an instrument utilised by humans, an Organization’s success in achieving the desired outcome is also subject to the personality of those humans that work within it.

I like to envision culture as being the manifestation of the various personalities of its people that have a direct or indirect influence on the operation. It is this personality (individually and collectively) exerted - often quite forcibly by a presiding leader - that really drives and shapes a Company’s culture. Personality therefore, is a critical consideration in establishing the true essence of a company’s culture and subsequently swaying or influencing the change that may be required. In brief, if you want to understand the culture of a Company, look to the personalities behind it, typically it is in their image.

The aviation industry is continuously bombarded with the latest craze or newest method of doing the same old thing. A lot of new concepts are worthy of change but equally, some are simply ‘change for the sake of change’. Generally, we need to get away from the ‘new and improved mouse trap’ mind-set every time we see a rodent and let the old trap do its job. However, occasionally there is a new and improved system that needs to be considered, especially if it awakens leaders and managers to the fact that they need to ‘change the way they manage and lead’ with respect to matching ‘the way modern humans actually work and live’.