3 Ways Senior Leaders Create a Toxic Culture

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Ron Carucci for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Whether presiding over the entire company, a function, a region, or a business unit, the people at the top of an organization have a disproportionate level of influence over those they lead. Those further down in the organization look to their leaders for cues on what’s acceptable (and what isn’t), and the team’s habits — both good and bad — will be emulated. Having your actions play out publicly, as if on a Jumbotron, is a huge responsibility, and unfortunately too many teams don’t take this responsibility as seriously as they should. The consequences can be farther reaching than most leadership teams realize.

At their best, leadership teams synchronize their organizations into cohesive powerhouses. At their worst, they set an example that some of the worst habits will be tolerated — and perhaps even rewarded. In my 30 years of working with leadership teams, these are three habits that I’ve seen have the most negative influence over a company. Here’s my advice for how to fix them.

Scattered Priorities

It’s astounding how badly most leadership teams use their time together. They set meeting agendas haphazardly, frequently only days beforehand (if at all). Their conversations veer off topic, often into minutia. They leave unaddressed the decisions and problems needing resolution. One study, done by the consulting firm RHR International, showed that among high-performing leadership teams, 93% are able to prioritize the most important issues and 96% focus on the right issues. By contrast, in low-performing leadership teams, only 62% prioritize well and 53% are seen as being focused on the right issues. The implications for an organization whose leadership team is poorly focused are serious: Wasted resources, wasted effort, and widespread confusion become the norm.

In one technology services company I worked with, the eastern U.S. division was known for underperforming against revenue plans in comparison to its central and western division counterparts. A closer look revealed that the leadership team had changed sales promotions every week, while the norm in other divisions was monthly changes. Its leadership team was scheduled to meet biweekly, but averaged every six weeks. And those meetings typically lasted about 45 minutes before the leader had to step out for an urgent call or crisis. The division was so scattered that one interviewee said, “We never know what’s really important. So whatever someone screams at me about in any given day, that’s the priority.”

Effective leadership teams have clearly defined charters. They narrowly focus on the most strategic priorities and don’t detour from them. They stick to well-articulated cision-making processes. And they intentionally transfer their disciplined focus down through the organization.

Unhealthy Rivalries

Competition among leadership teams isn’t unusual. After all, leaders that made the cut had to distinguish themselves among their peers to get the “big jobs.” But a team of excessively individualistic leaders vying for resources, status, influence, and, most often, their boss’s job, can fracture the organization beneath them. One CEO I briefly worked with loved to foster competition among his team. He would intentionally set conflicting goals among team members, and while he believed this would lead to the best ideas prevailing, it actually led to vicious backstabbing and information hoarding.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon #1 Rising to Power. Connect with him on Twitter at @RonCarucci; download his free e-book on Leading Transformation.

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