Your role as a leader in culture change

Carine Ghandour

We’ve talked in a previous article about the importance of the leadership shadow on culture change. But we often find leaders don’t understand their day-to-day role in delivering their organisation’s desired culture. In this blog we look at practical tips to help you get started.

1. Keep culture change front of mind.
Discuss the change openly and regularly with your team. Start your team meetings with a reference to one of your culture priorities and have a conversation about what that practically looks like in your team. Or begin by demonstrating an aspect of the change you want to role model. If there is a big drive on increasing accountability, you could share what you want your team to hold you accountable for. Showing is more impactful than telling when it comes to culture change.

2.  Take ownership and help your team do the same
When culture change is announced, some leaders, while agreeing that a shift needs to happen, may claim they are powerless to alter the system. In Walking the Talk, we refer to this as ‘Below the line thinking.’ While change can be overwhelming, the key to successful culture shifts is to maintain your focus on the behaviours, symbols, and systems that are within your control – what we term ‘Above the line thinking.’ For example, choose one aspect of the change you can directly influence and share with your team how you personally are going to put your energy into that so you can best support this shift.

Just as importantly, whenever you notice your team go below the line, and see themselves as backseat passengers of a culture change forced upon them, help them move above the line by using a simple reframing technique. If resistance is raised, let’s say in a team meeting, have an honest conversation, let them get their feelings out on the table, and then say ‘Ok, given all that, what is within our control to do?’ Just this one powerful question can unlock great tactical tips that can move your team forward as active participants in the change, rather than passive recipients. 

3. Be part of a peer support group. 
Connect with other leaders, who will be facing the same challenges as you with their teams. They will have different strengths, and alternative perspectives on how to role model. By openly sharing your successes and failures, you can leverage each other’s knowledge, experience, and ideas, which accelerates learning. In every role modelling session I’ve facilitated, leaders have said how much they benefited from being part of such groups, and picking up simple, practical tips they can action immediately. 

Culture change can often feel big and complex, with lots of shifts happening simultaneously. It doesn’t happen overnight. But if you intentionally focus your energy, and that of your teams, on a small number of tactical changes that are within your control and influence, you can make big strides forward. 

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