Do you still care or do you already care?

Companies are actually made up of employees and the rest. That’s why leaders should care about culture and integration. Yet most are more interested in the rest. How can this be changed?

Leaders prefer technical problems to leadership problems. First, because the former give the impression that they can be solved through thought, discipline and hard work. So they seem finite. And that’s why, in the end, it’s worth dealing with them, because the world is a better (or less bad) place afterward. Leadership problems are probably invariably interpersonal problems. And since people don’t just “go away”, leadership problems will come and go, no matter how elaborately, comprehensively and prudently you deal with them and want to bring about a solution. No sooner are one solved than the next looms on the horizon - in short: it is difficult to recognize an “improvement”.

The perspective is crucial

Leaders usually slide into leadership roles because they have attracted attention by tackling and completing challenges creatively, energetically or quickly. Their promotion to leader is thus an indirect confirmation that getting things done is worthwhile. It’s no surprise, then, that they continue to do so even when they’ve taken on new roles. Rarely is on-boarding thought about and perceived in companies beyond the induction of new employees. Although new leaders are really no different. We know them, but we expect them to behave differently. And in contrast to new employees, leaders have a much greater systemic impact - which, in my view, should be made unmistakably clear to them. Only then do they realize that in addition to getting things done, there is an equally important and sometimes more future-relevant perspective: Taking care of others. And this is not just a task, but a constant process. It cannot be done, but should be perceived and shaped in such a way that it produces the best possible effect: an excellent culture of cooperation.

Putting dialogs at the center

You may be asking yourself (or your leadership teams) how this effect is created. If employees are to collaborate, they need to communicate with each other - openly, honestly and transparently. Whether this happens in a face-to-face conversation or via digital media, dialogue is THE culture-building tool par excellence. Through it, leaders demonstrate that they care and that they care. And that they have understood that in their role they should ensure that employees can do their jobs as well as possible. If they don’t engage in dialogue, then they shape their environment either unconsciously, or according to their own needs, or according to those they believe are important to employees.

Now, dialogues are not necessarily an easy thing. They are often accompanied by misunderstandings or simply disagreements. They can start on a positive note and end in heated discussions, lead to disappointment or set relationships back. As long as they create transparency and clarity, these setbacks are bearable. From the point of view of a finisher, however, such interim results would be anathema and probably proof that dialogues are of no use and that one would be better off throwing oneself into current, operational problems.

Integrate system effects into the target system.

People learn a new behavior for only two reasons: Either because they have to or because they want to. Against this background, the question arises as to how companies get leaders to actually behave as “culture creators” and to take on this (partial) role in everyday life. In my experience, the following three steps have proven very effective:

  1. formulate a common understanding of leadership.
  2. define personal behavioral goals.
  3. establish continuous feedback loops.

Understanding leadership No matter how large your company or organizational unit is, it is always worthwhile to sit down with all leaders and talk about what is or should be understood by leadership. You can have this process facilitated externally or lead it yourself, but the following building blocks seem central to me. In doing so, you will secure a future-oriented, positive foundation:

  • Leadership is an ongoing task
  • Leadership creates room for development
  • Leadership is prestige-free.

In addition, these three building blocks prevent you from drifting into endless word games and provide a tangible basis.

Behavioral goals Then all leaders imagine the “ideal team leader (e.g. Lina)” for their organization and jointly record how Lina ideally behaves in her leadership role. Against this background, all leaders identify where they see room for development in themselves (or in their colleagues or team leaders, etc.). Based on this, everyone can now set a personal behavioral goal (e.g., give feedback more often, ask more questions, listen better, handle unpleasant conversations more avoidantly, etc.). Remember, behavioral goals should meet the following 4 criteria:

  1. start with “I…” to avoid non-specific wording.
  2. formulate your goal in the present tense and without auxiliary verbs to remain specific.
  3. phrase your goal positively to create a “toward” mood (rather than a “away from” one). 4.Stay believable so as not to overwhelm or inevitably disappoint yourself.

Feedback Loops. Development only occurs when events are reflected upon. Many leaders feel alone or dare not talk about challenges. That’s why you can easily schedule self-reflection into your leadership meetings. For example, bring leaders together in tandems or have everyone talk together about progress on a team goal (e.g., get multiple perspectives, strengthen impact in the system, etc.).

These three building blocks are effective helpers when it comes to consciously addressing, shaping or even demanding the system impact of leaders. In this way, leaders are able to shed their “doer” behavior more and more and, in turn, to care more and enter into important dialogs.

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