How much more comfortable do most leaders feel doing the task side of their role, in preference to the human and cultural one?
So often I watch leaders spending a huge amount of time focussed on the slides they are going to present in a meeting, rather then reflecting on the key personal message they want to deliver. Task is so much within comfort zone for most people. (Clue about comfort zone - when you are outside of comfort zone, you can feel it in your gut. Yes, it is physically uncomfortable. If you are not feeling that too often, maybe you are more in your comfort zone than you might imagine).
When I consider why many leaders spend so little time on culture, I conclude that it sits outside their comfort zone for two reasons. First, most leaders do not know how to systematically go about building the culture they want. And not knowing makes everyone uncomfortable. Second, changing culture means changing yourself, and that's not the most comfortable arena either.
So it is always very encouraging for me to hear a CEO of a super successful company acknowledge culture as the most important role of the leader. Here is a Newsweek interview with John Chambers, CEO of Cisco. Its long, but some highlights:
- Minute 2.30 he speaks about how he has changed his view on the importance of culture
- Minute 16.20 he gives a great example of how to walk your talk, and reinforce the behaviors you want in others.
- The whole interview is peppered with other examples of the levers - behaviors, symbols, systems - he pulls to change culture.
Chambers has taken one-team/collaboration and obsessive customer focus, as his critical cultural drivers. He has done 137 acquisitions, and been very clear that the Cisco culture will be the culture of the new acquisition. And he has built revenues from $2bn to $36bn in 15 years.
My conclusion about the future of leadership. Culture will become seen as a critical leadership role. The skill of culture management will become more widespread (our company intends to help this process). And leaders who can sit comfortably outside of comfort zone, and work with their own behavior and that of others, will be the ones who succeed.
Carolyn is the CEO of Walking the Talk and author of 'Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success' (Random House).
Twitter @walkingourtalk or LinkedIn.