What Every Leader Should Know About Organization Culture

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Workplace Issues

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?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Karin Hurt  |  15 Apr 2014  |  Reply

Such an important post…and unfortunately the worst behaviors are the most contagious. Even our stress roles down hill. Thanks for your insights.

Mary C Schaefer  |  15 Apr 2014  |  Reply

Thanks Karin! Good meeting you Saturday!

Rick Carter  |  16 Apr 2014  |  Reply

The behavior of the leader must be consistent with the culture that the company wants to create. Too many leaders have an “I pay you, I own you” mentality that is toxic and counterproductive to advancing the company. What happens then is that individual offices or departments create their own culture, then their own sense of identity, then their own sense of independence, then they all leave.
And the leader – who was not following the principles in this article – curses them for leaving.
Thank you for a great article.

Mary C Schaefer  |  16 Apr 2014  |  Reply

Thanks for commenting, Rick. You describe a situation that happens too often. So true. Thanks for adding your observations and your voice to the convo.

Join The Conversation