Have you ever worked in an organizational culture that reflected its leader’s personality and behavior?
Have you ever worked in an organizational culture that reflected its leader’s personality and behavior? It’s quite common for a new leader, in fact, to start shaping things around their own personal beliefs and mindset right away.
After all, those leaders have themselves been shaped by a cycle of positive feedback – they’ve been rewarded with new opportunities and challenges by doing this before. Why wouldn’t the approach they’ve taken work again? And again after that? Only, it’s not so simple as many leaders soon find out.
I was one of those leaders as I took the helm of a marketing team at a new organization. Previous success had come from moving quickly, being “decisive” and focusing on the customer. Now, onboarding in a new role, I was following that same playbook right out of the gate—and before really getting to know the team. That was a mistake. Soon, I found myself running into walls I hadn’t had to grapple with before. At first I didn’t understand why, but my “move quick” approach seemed to be falling flat for my closest colleagues.
They needed to be as engaged as the customers with ownership in those decisions that might impact them. My aggressive approach was running counter to their more conservative culture. They also used processes they felt were being circumvented by my actions—so emotions and behaviors were being challenged.
A lightbulb turned on when I began to realize how my internal team felt neglected. What if I treated them like the consumer groups we studied for our marketing efforts? What if I got to know them first? I teach marketers to begin by understanding your “consumer” first, which, in this case, was my team. I’d failed to take my own advice, forgetting that my team had their own common traits that must be revealed, recognized, and respected in order to maximize their morale and effectiveness. Our working relationships improved as soon as I stopped assuming my way was the right way, and instead paused to listen.
The current work-from-home debate provides a perfect window into this phenomenon. Experienced managers who’ve been successful by working long hours in offices assume that’s how their employees will achieve their goals too. If they don’t carefully consider the diverse needs and working preferences of their, they may fail to realize that other team members will not necessarily have the same means, access to childcare, or other needs common to the leader’s current situation.
Consider your target audience when making decisions.
Just because you prefer something, doesn’t mean others will. The superpower truly effective leaders wield is empathy. They make decisions from the perspective of their teams, not simply because “it works for me.” And, just like the best marketers, they start with research.
1.) Know your audience “segments.” Get to know your team and understand their individual situations as appropriate. For instance, Who has young children? Who may be carrying the weight of caring for a loved one? Who has a working partner? etc. Note common elements the team shares in authentic interactions (i.e., don’t inappropriately pry into their personal lives – respect different boundaries people may have, and at the same time, provide safe space for people to be/share authentically who they are), especially when those differ significantly from your own profile.
2.) Check in regularly. Set times and processes for checking in with “target” groups and individuals to gain honest feedback on your decisions. Listen closely, playback or recap what you heard, and make it a point to act on that feedback whenever possible.
3.) Make decisions based on your research. Share the “why” behind your choices. Are you setting direction based on employee feedback? Make sure they know that upfront. If other data is influencing your decision, share that in context, especially if it’s not something you personally believe or support. Authenticity in your “messaging” will go a long way in garnering support for more sensitive or controversial choices.
The worst mistakes leaders make typically arise from choosing direction based primarily on their own personal beliefs and experiences without appropriately considering other perspectives. These personal beliefs and experiences are likely shaped very differently than their team’s and may not reflect the best interest of those individuals or the organization at large. We’ve discussed the power of undertaking an active listening tour to help create a high-performing team. Morale improves and motivation increases when teams are led by empathic managers focused on the success and engagement of the members of the group and not just their own.
Charley Orwig, MBA
Senior Strategy and Brand Marketing Advisor
Charley is a dynamic business leader and marketing executive with 20 years of experience driving business growth. He combines solid corporate and agency experience, creative aptitude and sharp market insight, B2B and B2C experience as well as expertise in diverse digital markets. Charley spent much of his career in Brand Management at Kraft, before taking on consulting and leadership roles in marketing and data science. Having consistently delivered accelerated revenue growth for many of the top consumer brands, Charley understands what it takes to drive organizational performance, and how to build teams that are capable of consistently delivering it.