Building a Responsible Leadership Culture

Organisations cannot expect a responsible leadership and sustainability culture to be built for them by EHS and EMS teams without the active involvement and participation of thier leadership teams

In any organisations, the strengths and values of responsible leadership and sustainability must sit within the beliefs and worldviewa of its individual leaders.  Their influence on other employees will then be determined by the collective responsibility they exhibit and ultimately how these messages and actions are perceived by, have influence on and ultimately change wider organisational culture.

As a leader you can work hard to cultivate a strong leadership culture around yourself – it may be personally satisfying, but ultimately it means nothing in today’s business world if it doesn’t have a positive impact on organisational culture.  We have become aware of or experienced the ‘crash and burn’ hire – the candidates who promise everything in the interview room but fail when presented at the operational cliff face!   Having a positive impact on organisational culture is one of the most in-demand skills that responsible leaders can possess, especially when it is tied into a leadership culture that encompasses business sustainability or transformation leadership skills.

Your personal leadership culture is not only what you believe internally, but often what people close to you perceive and react to.  If the two perceptions aren’t in alignment, then your effectiveness in the role will be limited.  To progress in responsible leadership and sustainability those around you must have trust in the strength and validity of your inner beliefs, the transparency of your behaviours in this area and how well you communicate this worldview.   Your own personal WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) dilemma – if you cannot inspire trust, accountability, direction and inspiration in yourself as a leader. It will only be the power inherent in the post that you hold that deems you ‘a leader’ in the eyes of others!  So, building a leadership culture around yourself can be a successful and empowering enterprise, but it needs critical self-reflection in ‘who you are’ and ‘what you believe in’.

In combination with the other ‘leaders’ around you, the collective leadership culture will set the organisational culture for the business.  Research has shown that the degree to how embedded this perceived ‘leadership culture’ is will have a positive or negative impact on business longevity, adaptability, sustainability and how well senior leadership teams are able to act as a responsible manager and the extent to which they can work collectively for the benefit of the organisation.

If the leadership culture is too skewered towards the independent actions of its respective leaders, then you run the risk of a leadership culture composed of self-deluding peacocks each following independent agendas.

If it is too skewered towards a dependent leadership culture, then you run the risk of ‘group think’ and the deluding belief that only those around the board room table are responsible for existing practices, patterns of behaviour and leadership interactions. 

Building a strong leadership culture lies in building in balance with:

  • a diversity of personal characteristics, beliefs and worldviews (if you only employ engineers or accountants, don’t be surprised if they are logical and enjoy analysing complex problems but struggle in tuning their behaviours to the needs of others during CSR discussions)
  • a positive adaptability to changes outside the organisation (a willingness to change and adapt the business to address marketplace changes or customer values)
  • , a desire to integrate their diverse skills collaboratively towards business outcomes (can they perform as a team!), and
  • creative enough in their own persona to promote or inspire others to join them in any future direction the organisation takes (i.e. brave enough to face up to challenging situations and to take others forward with them)

Why is this important?

The organisational culture of a business reflects the beliefs and values that have built up within its employees – from the top to the bottom over time.  It reflects the freedom to operate that all employees need when they act in the best interests of the collective as opposed to the individual.   Staff are ‘inspired’ either to do their work or more positively by the value in which they feel their work is held.  This has a significant impact on efficiency and organisational performance.  As all good leaders know, it isn’t about you, it is about them!  If they are inspired by positive leadership set within an inspiring organisational culture then their personal well-being, attitude, approach to customers, behaviours and (ultimately for those organisations who wish to retain skilled employees) their longevity in employment will be improved.

Without inspiration, without direction and without positive leadership – staff will adjust their work patterns to a level that allows them to operate within the leadership cultures that they find themselves.    

  • Why risk your inspiration on a leader who only reflects on his own position within the leadership?
  • Why work hard for a leader who fails to hold others accountable for poor performance?
  • Why seek system thinking from a leader whose judgement, design and thinking is poor?
  • Why follow the vision of a leader you don’t trust?

In seeking to act both as a ‘leader’ and a ‘leader of others’ you must understand the relationship between organizational culture, your individual (and collective) leadership behaviours and their outcome on business performance, sustainability, staff satisfaction and retention.

To help you in this, I recommend that you reflect on the following three leadership insights:

  • To what extent is the organisational culture having a positive or negative impact on sustainability
  • Is our collective leadership culture helping us to achieve the sustainability strategies that have been set?
  • What do I need to address internally and who do I need to challenge openly to change matters?

The last question as always is the most difficult to answer, but it is the one with the greatest self -reflection and desire to act as a leader!

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