Every organization has a culture. It may be a culture of competitiveness or fear. Cultures that pit people against one another are not well-positioned to address the challenges of living in the midst of transition. Most of these organizations are starved for leadership. For leadership is not simply what the senior executives may do. Rather, leadership is how people function within the context of their work. This means that the culture of the company is not a corporate initiative passed down to employees. It is rather how the company functions as a network of relationships.
Since the publication of my book, I have come to speak of these relationships as “a persistent, residual culture of values.” The values persist because they reside in the relationships of the people of the organization. As I commented to a woman who works in a company that is struggling in the midst of its own transition, “A company is not defined by its tragedies, but by the persistent, residual culture of the network of relationships that exists within the company.” To have this kind of culture requires creating a culture for leadership.
This is the fourth of four posts of excerpts from my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change. These posts are about the transition that I see taking place within organizations in particular, and global society in general. If you or your business is in transition, you may find that many of the ideas and tactics that you used to manage change are no longer effective. You need not only a different perspective but new tools for living in the midst of a global transition of unprecedented proportions.
Power and control are established by how organizations are structured. Instead of borders, there are layers and silos to divide the territory of the organization.
The layers of an organization represent, in a very simple way, the difference between executives, managers and workers. The layer is designated by their titles and roles. It is out of this way of structuring an organization that we define leadership as a role or a title, rather than how people function within their lives and work. In doing so, we are admitting that structure is central to how we see ourselves.
Perpendicular to the layers of an organization are the silos of communication that define the social structure of accountability. Here the invisible boundaries of political power within the corporate structure are played out. The silo is how responsibility and accountability flows. Responsibility flows down and accountability rarely flows up.
An attempt to solve this problem was tried through flat structures. But corporate structures are not flat, cannot be flat and resist ever being flat. Power and authority are hierarchical in modern organizations and societies. Though most problems in corporations are caused by its structural, the solution is not.
Squeezed is the appropriate word. It is why people feel vulnerable, rather than them feeling the desire to be vulnerable.
This is vulnerability imposed from the outside, by the structures of the world and their companies.
The kind that Chris Lister writes about in his FastCompany article – I thought I knew what it meant to lead with vulnerability. Then I became CEO – is a choice that we make to be a particular way. Lister is correct. It isn’t as easy as Brene’ Brown suggests. Though I’m not sure Brene’ is saying it is easy but necessary.
What is a persistent, residual culture?
First, it is a culture that persists in spite of changes in society, leadership, strategy, or ownership.
Second, it is a culture that resides in the relationships of people who work in the company or live in the same community. It lives there regardless of support or resistance. It is a culture of belief in certain values that define who people want to be together in the varied functioning of their jobs.