I believe strongly that the primary role of leaders is to create successful cultures. If we keep in mind that “culture” in this context means “what is encouraged to grow,” then it is pretty easy to envision the task of a leader: make sure the right things are growing.
Almost every organizational dysfunction is a product of the wrong things being encouraged to grow. To state it more succinctly, organizational dysfunction grows from a dysfunctional culture—and is a failure of leadership.
Let’s take as an example the recent plague of sexual abuse allegations that are haunting the U.S.. News reports tend to focus upon the famous individuals who have been charged with sexual abuse. Certainly, if these people did what they are accused of, then they deserve the public humiliation they are receiving. Yet I try to look behind the famous names to the culture that produced them. There, I believe, is the real source of the problem.
Many of the recently exposed sex abusers are Hollywood elites. Now, I do not excuse these people when I say that they were part of an immoral culture. It is well known that an easy-sex, sex-in-exchange-for-privilege, grasping, groping ‘porn inspired” culture prevails in Hollywood. This, we are told, is no less the case now than it was during the high tide of the sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.
So, while the famous individuals we can all name are responsible for their actions, they were shaped and even mentored by an immoral Hollywood culture. The obvious lesson is “change the culture, change the man.” It is an important principle of leadership.
Another example. I often appear on the various news shows of a certain media firm. I love many of the people in this firm and I love the good that this firm often does. However, a dangerous culture has been encouraged. When I first began working with this firm, I noticed that nearly every woman was stunning, that she was dressed to kill and that this was true from the interns to the on-air personalities. Now, many of these women had doctorates from Georgetown and law degrees from Harvard. They were deserving of their roles. Still, it was obvious that someone had intentionally built the network around physical beauty and “the tease” and “sexual titillation,” both phrases used by on-air personalities themselves.
Well, physical beauty is certainly no offense, but if you build the culture of a company around sexual arousal without equal emphasis on character, you will have abuse. Sadly, this network has been riddled by lawsuits and firings. I grieve for them, many of them my friends, and understand the failure of culture-assuring leadership behind it all.
People are responsible for their actions. Yet people are nearly always the product of a culture. The goal of a leader is to know what culture prevails, know what culture should prevail, and lead so as to cause the right culture to prevail—in other words, so as to make sure the right things grow.
If you read Leading Thoughts often, then you know where I’m going next. Take some time. Look at the culture of your firm. What are its features? Where will this lead? Is a change called for? What culture ought to prevail? How will you inspire it? This is leadership. Do it well.