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3 leadership traits that help shape organisational culture

During an offsite programme about team culture earlier this year, we talked about how we can drive cultural change inside an organisation. A culture where people feel empowered and belonging. As the conversation developed, one person of the middle management team popped a question that really made me think. “How do we prevent we become the organisational culture?”

In this situation we’re talking about a highly dominant, to an extent toxic culture where the leaders are mostly concerned with profits and seemingly show little interest in the wellbeing of staff. This is very much a ‘do as I tell’ culture, or better: “do as I tell, now” type culture. Although it is hard to answer this question as there are so many factors at play, I believe the key is shifting what is known as your locus of control. Practicing this will keep you more optimistic and forges a feeling of empowerment. Here are three simple things you can do that will help shifting the external locus of control (the organisation happens to me) to a more internal locus of control (I happen to the organisation).

1. Know what you want and why
This is about focus. You joined an organisation because you wanted things. More than just a salary, you probably looked for challenge, interesting colleagues, developmental opportunities, recognition, etc. Perhaps you even felt strong about the organisation’s purpose; the reason as to why it exist and the difference it seeks to make. When the organisation seems to ‘happen to you’, remind yourself why you wanted to work here and not anywhere else. Are you in the right place?

2. Focus on what you can influence; the difference you seek to make
Thoughts fuel feelings, and feelings fuel thoughts. When you think there is nothing you can do, there will be very little you can do. And it’s not a good feeling, is it? When you feel cornered or constraint by the origination’s culture, it is easy to fall victim to negative fatalistic thinking and blame the environment. Instead, focus on what is ‘right’ and devote your energy to those things. For example on the talented professional on your team that seeks more of your guidance. Do you like team huddles? Have more of them. Great team work? Recognise people’s contributions more often. Build a community and be consistent. The difference you have made for others is what people will remember, not what you have achieved for yourself. And that in itself is incredibly rewarding.

3. Find allies
Focus on the minority that is open to change, not the cynical nay sayers. Connect with the innovators on your team who are curious and believe what you believe. Ask for their views and ideas. Change allies are found beside and below you, less likely above you. If you and your peers do more of this, you are shaping the culture of your organisation, bottom up. When your team feels protected by you, you will have followers and followers make for a movement. And as a result, slowly but surely you are now becoming the driving force of a cultural shift; you are now ‘happening’ to the organisation.