Leadership is an ever-changing process. Whether you own a business like mine or lead a large complex health system, each day is rife with leadership opportunities. No two days are exactly alike—especially when leading an organization through a culture shift. Change can be hard, even when you know it’s for the best.
I think one of the main reasons culture change can be difficult is that, when you ask people to change, it may imply (rightly or wrongly) that their current way of doing things is flawed. And no one likes to be wrong. Shifting the focus to what is right about the current culture is one way to make the suggestion of change more palatable. It’s important to start with a realization of strengths and an honest assessment of weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.
The biggest impetus for successful change is when a leader is willing to take an honest look at him or herself, and the organization as a whole. To do that, you need a magnifying glass and a mirror. In other words, you must be willing to look closely at your organization with clear, open eyes. Even when it means discovering things that will require you to make difficult decisions. Holding up your metaphorical mirror means taking an honest look at yourself and your leadership style. What type of leader are you? Are you contributing to create the current culture? What do you need to change in order to become the organization of your vision? These questions, among others, will help foster personal growth and change within the organization.
As a consultant, my role is to hold up both the magnifying glass and the mirror to help foster culture change. When leaders are willing to seek alternative perspectives, great things can happen.
In one case, the magnifying glass (such as employee focus groups and interviews) revealed intimidating behaviors from one of the VPs. The behaviors were the exact opposite of the mission and values. After discussing the problem, the CEO reflected on his role in the situation (mirrored). What he came to realize was that he had turned a blind eye to the behaviors and needed to take action. It was a difficult but productive discussion, and he was grateful for my candor.
If you want to make positive culture changes, use the magnifying glass to examine the current reality and the mirror to scrutinize your role in creating it.