Leadership Culture & Cognitive Dissonance

Posted by Orrin Woodward on July 13, 2016

There is nothing more important, its proper implementation determining the destiny of nations, companies, and families, than the creation of culture. Culture, the system of beliefs, values, and customs a community follows, cannot be seen, but it permeates every behavior and creates every norm within the company*. Interestingly, despite practically every leader expressing the need for the proper culture to create the proper results, few seem to make it a matter of conscious development. This, I believe, is one of the biggest leadership mistakes being made in the marketplace.

As such, every community must get intentional about culture or suffer the consequences. Interestingly, just over a year ago, in a conversation with Chris Brady, he boiled down influence within a company to the three R’s to influence – require it, recognize it, or reward it. Although we weren’t specifically talking culture at the time, it didn’t take long for me to realize Brady had summed up the different methods to create culture within a community. Since that day, I have thought extensively on how to create a culture that requires, recognizes, and rewards the right behaviors.

Cognitive Dissonance

Needless to say, this is much more difficult to do than it sounds, for most companies suffer from cognitive dissonance – a malady where the organization promotes one thing while rewarding another. In consequence, the biggest failure-mode for most communities involves the recognition and rewards not being in alignment with the long-term vision. Cognitive dissonance, not surprisingly, creates a cultural inertia that, left to itself, will divide the community and blur the vision. Dissonance, in a word, destroys unity and growth.

Accordingly, a great leader must identify what is the purpose and vision of the community; then, he must develop the culture around requiring, recognizing, and rewarding the proper behaviors to accomplish it. Moreover, if the leader realizes the recognition and rewards currently instituted will not achieve the stated purpose and vision, he must have the courage to make the needed adjustments. In fact, this is what makes the leader the leader, namely, the courage to create the culture to accomplish the community’s purpose. Indeed, any leader unwilling to do this, is not truly a leader, for he merely follows the existing cultural current rather than create the correct one.

Leaders are responsible for eliminating any cognitive dissonance in the culture to ensure the actions of the organization move it towards its stated purpose and vision. After all, nothing proves the leader’s worth so much as his/her ability to move the cultural current in the proper direction. It doesn’t matter if it is easy; it doesn’t matter if it is convenient; it doesn’t even matter if its popular, but what does matters is whether the community can accomplish its stated purpose with the current culture. If there is cognitive dissonance, then the culture must change.

When an organization is suffering in the throes of cognitive dissonance, the leader must charge to the front lines and resist the current cultural current, converting the current from dissonance to resonance around the professed purpose. When the cultural current is flowing smoothly, the rewards and recognition align and people win personally when the organization wins corporately.
Proper leadership, in sum, creates the culture and the culture creates the results.

What is the purpose for your organization*? What is the culture of your organization? Is the culture’s results aligned with the purpose of the organization? If it is, then start the clock to the community’s victory celebration. If it isn’t, however, then start the clock and see how long it takes the leaders to get to the front and lead. Harry Truman was right:

the buck does truly stop with the leader.

Cognitive Dissonance

*Organization‘, actually; because the same dynamics effect corporations, small businesses & faith-based orgs & churches similarly. People tend to act like people wherever they are.

About gabulmer

Christian apologist, husband, father, runner, blogger, leader with LIFE Leadership.
This entry was posted in In the Trenches, Leadership, Mentoring, Notes from the Frontline, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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