Leadership is often considered to be the sole remit of senior managers in an organisation.  Over the last few decades, however, it has become something companies have encouraged from all employees, suggesting that anyone can be a leader, especially when the company needs to change or build a new culture.  And because the only qualification for leadership for culture change is belief in the cause, then in theory, anyone can do it.  In practice, two things are required –  Engagement, and Confidence.  When employees are both engaged and confident, their influence shines brightly, and other employees follow them in droves.  

So how do we find these beacons of change, and create more of them?  What are the signs?

Sign #1 – Culture change leaders know what they need to do

Leaders for culture change know what they need to do.  They are clear on a specific behaviour pattern to achieve a specific outcome and are personally motivated to do so.  This comes from a clear message from senior management that explains all of this and is repeated on a regular basis. 

Let me give you an example.  At the time of writing, one of the main rail transportation companies in the UK is running a communications campaign to encourage the public to be vigilant on matters of public security, in the wake of recent terror attacks.  And not just to be vigilant, but to speak out if they see anything that might be a threat.  See it, Say it, Sorted!  A clear, simple and easy-to-remember message designed to build a culture of security and encourage everyone to become leaders to ensure everyone stays safe.  It also clearly communicates the behaviour required.

Sign #2 –  Culture change leaders are confident enough to take a risk

Being a leader for culture change, but with no position power, can be risky, because it relies on pure skill to influence.  There is the potential of a leadership communication being received as a challenge rather than a support, and this gives rise to fear, if employees don’t have confidence in the outcome.

With position power, you can have no communications or influencing skills whatsoever, but people will still listen to you, because of your position in the hierarchy, or your authority in some area.  And this is precisely why, conversely, leaders tend to rise from lower down in the ranks, because they are forced to hone their communications skills, whereas those with position power are not.    These natural leaders are prepared to speak out without fear, based on strong personal values – a key driver of behaviour.   For this reason, all culture change programs need to be values-based.

Sign #3 – Culture change leaders know where their safety net is

Culture change leaders know where their safety net is – a term that is more often associated with physical activity such as working at height or sports.   Sports performance, not so unlike business, is all about stretching your abilities to see how far you can go.  It’s about constantly seeking to improve your personal best.  Doing this also requires taking a risk, as we described earlier, but what if it all goes wrong?  What if you end up back in a worse position than you were before you took the risk?  In Sports this might mean injuring yourself.  In business, it could mean losing your job.  With any risk, there is the possibility of loss and damage, and we need to mitigate against it. 

Having a safety net in place is one way to mitigate against risk – both physical and emotional.   We need a way to support our workers when they stand up for what they know to be right, and risk incurring the wrath of those who might have another agenda and more position power – a senior manager or a client for example.

Our safety net in this instance is the culture we create.  When we have a critical mass of people all engaged around a specific culture, with its inherent rules, rituals and expectations, then anyone who speaks out to uphold it is always supported.  The question is – how strong is your safety net?

In summary, if we want to create change leaders to build us a culture of high performance, they need three things: – they need to know what to do; they need to be confident enough to take a risk; and they need to know where their safety net is.  When we have all this, we have Employee Confidence – a culture of leadership that has Employee Engagement and High Performance as its rewards. 

 “Employee Confidence – the new rules of Engagement” launches on 26th April.  To pre-order your copy, click on the link below.