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Leadership (In)Action

Not that this is a new piece of information, but I recently came across the quote (found in the picture) and it really got me spinning. I spend a lot of time blogging about leadership and HR as well as doing a lot of coaching and leadership development in my job. As an HR Pro, I am always trying to manage and align things like employee engagement surveys, talent management/retention practices as well as compensation strategies, with where our organization wants to head. At the end of the day though, most of what I/we do as HR Pros comes down to leadership. Both how we lead, as well as how we support and guide, as organizational stewards, the leaders in our organizations.

Gruenter and WhitakerI also find, rightly or wrongly, that as an HR Pro, I tend to focus a lot on leadership action as it pertains to how it drives organizational culture. That is, I tend to look at what we are doing, how we should do it and what we need to be doing as leaders to define, drive and support the type of company we want the and how we create and define our culture. In short, for me, it is all about leadership action. Taking action as a leader is what drives our organizational culture(s). Or is it?

I shared this quote with a colleague of mine and he gave me an entirely new perspective on it. In his words, “that single statement embraces a lot of interrelated concepts that all focus on one key idea. A company becomes whatever a leader let’s it become not necessarily what they want it to become.  In the case of leadership, inaction can define a company just as effectively as action.”

Whoa – my mind was blown. I found that to be a very powerful statement. Think about it, “inaction can define a company just as effectively as action.” In other words, as leaders, we need to look at how our inactions are forming organizational culture. When I took a step back from this one and looked at the organizations that I am familiar with (not necessarily worked for) during my career, the ones that had weak leadership/cultures were the ones where the organizational head(s) did not take any action to lead or fix things.

Think about this for a minute. A “leader” may want his/her company to be have an innovative and entrepreneurial culture, one where the employees are encouraged to take risks, think of innovative ways to provide solutions to its customer base and one where the staff genuinely enjoy coming to work. However, in this scenario, this same leader allows her operational heads to function as extreme micromanagers, ones whose sole focus is the tactical realization of a $1 profit each day. By allowing this managerial approach to continue, this leader will never have the organizational culture she desires and will never realize the vision she wants to achieve. Additionally, you will probably experience a lot of turnover as you will have initially hired one type person, who quickly realized that they were sold a bill of goods! In this case, leadership inaction has defined this company. The leader may want one thing, but their inaction leads to another.

I have also seen this play out in other forms as I am sure you all have too. For example, an organizational head wants to have a workplace culture that is guided by ethical business practices. He wants the corporate values of truth, honesty, ethics and customer service to guide all decision making. However, this same organizational head also allows sales reps and client service managers to bend and break policies and practices in order to secure immediate and future client business. While he truly believes in the values, they have become values of convenience and his inaction in dealing with those that contravene the values leads to an undesired organizational culture. Again, inaction has, unfortunately, defined this company and ultimately has damaged its employment brand.

What about you? What have you seen in organizations you have been a part of? Is the quote above accurate? Is leadership inaction more powerful than actual leadership action? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of leadershipopportunities.blogspot.ca


One Response

  1. An excellent article, and I shall be printing out this quote for my own bulletin board. I recently left (by choice, my team was quite sad to see me go) a very large (90,000+ employees globally) engineering+design consulting company. What I observed in my few years there was a complete dissociation between what central management espoused and the culture that was actually able to develop within the stifling and ever-growing bureaucracy that the same central management pushed down to us.

    I agree with a lot of the points in your article, and think that as companies grow to such massive sizes, the problems of managing the managers scale up to dimensions that perhaps simply cannot be effectively addressed in a top-down structure.

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