The Leadership Void

Undecided businessmanWhen I’m invited in to help executives refine their organization’s culture, I start with learning as much as I can about the executive team before I start learning about their company.

Why? Because leaders of organizations maintain the current culture, whether it’s beneficial or not, productive or not, engaging or not – and whether they know it or not! Senior leaders of teams, departments, regions, business units, etc. have the authority and responsibility to change policies, procedures, and norms – which can change the culture for the better.

My discovery process allows me to learn who this executive team is, how they lead their organization, how they communicate, what they validate (through recognition and praise), what they value, and what their desired culture is.

I immerse myself in relevant data – documents like employee satisfaction or engagement survey results, mission statements, strategic plans, internal newsletters, and more. I spend hours reviewing these cultural “artifacts” before I begin executive interviews, which offers much more detailed information on the executive team and how it operates.

One client shared their new vision statement and strategic plan. The CEO was quite proud of these documents. He told me, “We worked for two weeks on the vision statement. The strategic plan didn’t take that long – we already had pieces of it formalized.”

The problem? The vision statement was full of buzzwords and didn’t specify what this company did for their customers or why customers should care. It simply stated that the company “creates value for shareholders, employees, and customers.”

The strategic plan didn’t include any clear strategies at all. There was no outline of new customer needs to be addressed or new market opportunities that will be explored. The plan simply presented percentage growth targets for existing products and services.

I asked the CEO what employees’ responses were to the vision and strategic plan. He said reaction was rather subdued – and that the executive team had gotten feedback that employees didn’t know what the company’s strategy was, even after reading the documents.

These documents were not helpful. They didn’t provide the clarity that was desperately needed. The vision wasn’t clear. The strategy wasn’t clear.

This organization was operating in a leadership void. In the absence of leadership, strong personalities fill the void. We’ve all seen it.

In some cases, those strong personalities provide clarity of purpose and strategy. Those strong personalities create a cooperative work environment. They propose clarity and direction, and proactively align plans, decisions, and actions to move their team forward.

However, in most cases, these strong personalities provide clarity for the player’s own benefit – not the team’s or organization’s benefit. An “I win, you lose” mentality gets embedded. What gains traction are norms that pit people against each other rather than aligning each other to common goals and shared values.

Left to our own devices, us humans typically serve ourselves rather than engaging together to serve others. Politics and power become the coin of the realm, not cooperation and service.

The executive team I worked with didn’t realize they were causing difficulties with their bland vision and strategic plan. They didn’t intend to abdicate leadership – and they were frustrated to learn that’s exactly what they’d done.

I worked with the executive team to create a more actionable, present day purpose statement and a clarified strategic plan that set context for business branding, marketing, and operations for the next three years.

Their executive team is embracing their purpose, values, strategies, and goals. They’re working cooperatively so that every function and unit aligns to their company’s organizational constitution.

They’re not done yet, but the politics, power plays, and self-centered behaviors are diminishing.

The executive team is optimistic about their culture transition, which is terrific.

How clear is your team or company’s present day purpose? Do team members understand your strategies and goals well enough to articulate them to others? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © alpha spirit – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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