Leaders Cast a Long Shadow


There’s good and bad news about the shadow of the top team

By David Tovey

Shadow_1According to Forbes magazine, Webster’s dictionary stated that “culture” is the most popular word of the year and that for very good reason it has become one of the most important words in corporate boardrooms across Europe and the USA.

As the economy improves, employee engagement is once again high on the agenda of business leaders. Employer brand has become a critical issue for organisations seeking to recruit and retain the best people and yet according to recent reports by Delloitte and Gallup, many organisations have a long way to go to improve their reputation as employers.

With social media channels and on line review sites such as Glass Door making the reputation of employers easier to make public than ever, people find out fast if an organisation is not a such a great place to work.

The importance of culture and its effects on employee engagement, customer loyalty and organizational performance are by well-known and have been extensively written about.

Yet even as issues of culture lie at the heart of every change initiative, growth strategy, customer experience project and leadership project I’ve ever worked on; too many senior managers talk about culture as if nothing can be done about it -whether their organisations culture is helpful or not.

 Organisations are shadows of their leaders – that is both the good news and the bad news.

“The culture demonstrated by the top team has a direct impact on the performance and productivity of the entire organization”

The most important shadows come from teams at the top; the CEO’s team and the teams of those who report to the CEO. High performance senior management teams understand that their collective and individual behaviour casts a positive or negative shadow across the entire organization. Since employees tend to take their cues on what is important and how to behave from their leaders; negative behaviour at the top creates negative behaviours deep down into the organization, adversely impacting performance and the potential of the business.

The role of leaders within any organisation is to model the desired behaviours and letting their teams see the stated values of the business in action. The most effective leaders I meet are aware of the shadows they cast and have learned how to ensure their messages match their actions.

The head of a 20,000 person organization or a four person team casts a shadow that influences the employees in that group. The shadow may be weak or powerful, but have no doubt that it always exists. It is a reflection of everything the leaders does and says and leaders are never off duty.

The shadow of the top team

Because of the critical need for the senior team to be role models of the desired culture, it is this group that first needs to come together to define the guiding behaviours for the rest of the organization. When the values and desired behaviours don’t exist in the senior team, the probability that the organization will live the values is low.

In order to build a sustainable winning culture, the top team must be seen by the organization as living the values and walking the talk.

Walking the talk and integrity

Whenever a company makes statements about desired behaviours and people don’t see those behaviours being demonstrated at the top, there is a lack of integrity:

  • People are asked to be accountable for results, while the senior team members blame others for lack of results.
  • Increased teamwork and cross-organizational collaboration is preached, yet the senior team won’t collaborate across departmental lines
  • The organization is seen being hard on costs, yet the senior team doesn’t cut back on any of its special perks
  • Punctuality and attendance is micro managed and monitored but the top team come and go as they please.

In my experience, the culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behaviours the leader is willing to tolerate.

David Tovey

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David Tovey

By David Tovey

David Tovey helps sales teams, business owners and professionals to build amazing business relationships, win more business and accelerate profitable growth.


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