What Every Leader Should Know About Organization Culture

Your behaviors are contagious. Choose carefully.

Perhaps you are familiar with a popular insurance company TV ad based on the concept of “paying it forward.”

A woman prevents a guy from stepping off the street corner into the path of an oncoming car.  The man who observes this from a restaurant window later helps a mother maneuver her baby carrier off the bus.  A man seeing this while waiting at the bus stop later helps a coworker lift a bowl from a high shelf.  You get the picture.  One good deed inspires another.  Just as importantly, the modeling of the good deed influences the observer.

As a leader, you influence your culture more than you even realize.

Dr. Daniel Goleman and his tribe, known for their work on emotional intelligence, have also uncovered that a leader’s mood and behavior set off a powerful chain reaction among those around her or him.

I am often disappointed when I hear of a “leader’s” behavior sending the wrong message to an organization and setting a tone of fear or complacency.  You could cite the recent case of the employees at a leading car company not actively surfacing safety issues.  That doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Goleman’s research supports that a leader’s emotional intelligence is so “contagious” it can be compared to carrying electricity through the wires of the organization. (Harvard Business Review article, “Primal Leadership,” December 2001.)

The value of “paying it forward” as a leader.

You could go so far as to say the level of a leader’s emotional maturity dictates the culture that develops in the organization.  I reveled in reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com.  I was inspired hearing how his thought process developed as he realized the importance of organization culture.  As he learned and grew, he put a lot of energy into creating a corporate culture that supported his vision, his business, customers and organization members.

Goleman and company’s work makes the case for what they call “emotional leadership” being a leader’s primal task to achieving business success, through others.

What choices and decisions do you deliberately make to model the behavior and culture you want from those who look to you for leadership?