When we think about the mandates, budgets, and activities around developing leaders, we often forget to take into account an important aspect of the environment in which leaders lead—the culture of the organization. Culture can exist at various levels; for example: the overall federal government, an agency, or a branch. Wherever culture resides it must be accounted for, and integrated within, a leadership development program.
Identification and Integration
If cultural norms are to be taught to new members as basic assumptions, it is essential that a leadership development program incorporate methods for teaching these rules.
Leaders must be able to convey both explicit and implied rules and to reinforce desired behaviors to their teams. They also must know how to address and redirect unacceptable behaviors.
The first step toward accomplishing this goal is the identification of organizational values and assumptions. Values are a major underpinning of culture and define an organization’s rules of behavior. Values determine how members represent the organization to themselves and others. Basic assumptions are derived from lessons learned by the group as it solves problems. Both values and assumptions must be identified before they can be taught to new members as the expected way to perceive, think, and feel.
Manager Behavior and Culture
Once values and assumptions are identified, ongoing leadership development needs to provide models of useful day-to-day leadership behaviors.
At least three areas should be addressed.
- Communication style. This is critical to building and sustaining a desired culture because the way in which a manager communicates sends signals about how to engage with others. In other words, what type of communication is acceptable—top-down only; consultative; peer-to-peer advising; bottom-up feedback?
- Relationship style. This is how leaders interact with peers and direct reports. For instance, are relationships predominately adversarial, competitive, and distrustful, or supportive and collegial?
- Decision making style. Leaders need to be equipped with appropriate decision making practices that will contribute to the successful completion of tasks in support of agency mission. Employees need to understand both formal and informal approval processes.
But don’t stop there—consider other ways in which model behavior can be identified, reinforced, and publicized. Make sure actions and strategies are aligned to other key elements of the culture. For example, don’t overlook visually recognizable organization artifacts that should be taken into consideration. Architecture, furniture, and dress code provide tangible signs of behavior norms and parameters. Leaders need to be aware and use artifacts to support processes and systems that drive desired behaviors.
Future Perspectives on Culture
Does the federal government have a culture? Absolutely—there are written as well as unwritten rules about how things get done. Both need to be addressed in the development of leaders. In future posts we will explore how culture impacts agency performance and culture change.
The Ken Blanchard Companies specializes in leadership development and the connection to building healthy, desirable cultures. For more information on Blanchard’s leadership development and culture building solutions—specifically in a government setting—explore the culture section of Blanchard’s website.