Derek Bishop


Actions speak louder than words

Date added: 15th Mar 2013
Category: Innovation Culture

“Some are born leaders, some achieve leadership and others have leadership thrust upon them.” But however you came to the leadership post; it is how you act in your role which will influence the culture and future direction of the organisation.

We only have to pick a few characters from comedy shows to see the way in which leaders can influence style.  From the Armstrong & Miller show comes “the striding man”; walking fast through the corridors and forcing his minions to scurry after him with quick facts and questions.  He is the centre of the organisation and everyone else exists to serve him.  Or how about David Brent, wanting to be a friend and mentor but never quite getting the tone right?  And who could fail to marvel at Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army.  Blustering and rule driven he nevertheless saves the day time and time again thanks to his unswerving patriotism and his loyalty and belief in his men.

There is an old saying about people being promoted to the level of their incompetence.  Joke it may be but we have seen it time and time again in business.  Those who are extremely competent managers do not necessarily make great leaders.    Managers follow policies, procedures and plans whilst leaders engage, inspire and influence.

When trying to change the culture and direction of an organisation it is vital that words and actions are in harmony or confusion can reign.  Simply sitting in an office and issuing instructions won’t work.  The senior leadership team needs to lead the way and demonstrate the desired behaviours not just talk about them.

So if the vision requires the culture to be turned around from a rule-bound hierarchy to a freer more empowered innovation culture then the last thing which is required is the leadership tucked away in an inaccessible office issuing absolute directives backed up by requests for forests worth of meaningless statistics.  If silo mentalities are to be done away with then discussion, collaboration and cross-referencing has to be seen to be work at the top of the organisation.  Open collaborative ways of working only come about when the leadership is seen to be openly collaborative.

Acting out the vision is not in the remit solely of the person on top.  Sharing the vision, communicating and empowering others is as important as developing the vision.  As the new style cascades through the organisation, managers and leaders need in their turn to take up the challenge of “walking the walk”.

It is also important at an early stage to engage those who are “leaders without a title”.  Every organisation has them, the people who have no formal leadership role but who influence those around them through the natural force of their personality.  Leaders without a title” will have a huge impact if they “model the way” you want people to deliver and behave.  So getting them on board at an early stage helps employees to see that those behaviours being demonstrated within the leadership also have relevance within their sector of the organisation.

Finally, take steps to equip the more junior members of the management team with the skills they need both to lead and to guide others through transformation and towards a healthy culture.  Show them how to engage followers and to influence others.  Guide them in developing an understanding of people behaviours and help them to develop techniques which will enable them to handle difficult conversations and to overcome emotional reactions to change.

Natural leader or not, influencer or not, the buck stops with you.  Developing the vision, engaging the hearts and minds of those who will enact it are worthless unless you are seen every day demonstrating the vision and values through your actions.  Words are cheap, actions count; let your actions move your organisation towards a strong and secure future.

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