Why a leadership style doesn’t change

This simple, yet powerful story illustrates why a particular quality and style of management prevents many businesses from changing and evolving at the same pace as their competitors.

There was a young boy who sold baseball style caps as a way to help his family earn enough money to keep a roof over their heads. He wandered the streets every day before and after school touting his brightly coloured caps which were hung on a line around his cart and made a colourful sight.

One sunny day, he parked his cart loaded with caps under a tree to rest and to escape the heat of the sun for a while. As he was sitting in the shade drinking water, a troop of monkeys came down from the top of the tree and stole all his caps – every single one of them. They immediately began howling and chattering with delight at their success and hung all the caps on high branches.

The boy looked up. His caps were hanging high in the tree and out of reach, and he thought that the chance of earning the money to help his family had gone. In anger he picked up some stones and started throwing them at the chattering monkeys. Seeing the boy throwing stones at them, the monkeys picked the large fruit from the tree they were in and began to throw them down at the boy. One even hit him on the head. The monkeys roared with delight.

The boy sat down by his cart feeling beaten, dejected and depressed. However, as he relaxed and his mind calmed, it was no longer filled with thoughts of revenge on the monkeys. Instead, ideas began to occupy the space where angry thoughts once had been and suddenly he had an insight.

He stood up, yelled at the monkeys to get their attention, grabbed his own cap off of his head and threw it to the ground. Immediately the monkeys grabbed all the caps in the tree and threw them to the ground, laughing with delight. Calmly, the boy gathered up his caps and moved on.

How does this relate to your organisation/department?
This story perfectly illustrates one of the key determinants of organisational/departmental culture – employees tend to watch and repeat the mindset and behaviour of their managers … past and present! The monkeys were simply following the boy’s example … first by throwing fruit after he threw stones, and then throwing the caps down to the ground like he did!

Employees watch the behaviour of their managers and leaders to look for clues on how to behave, what is really important, and how to succeed in the organisation. After all, if managers behave like that, it must be appropriate, and required, for success.

When managers talk about what’s expected from their team, but behave differently themselves, guess what employees tend to role model?

When departmental managers openly bad-mouth other departments, guess what the level of teamwork is between sales, accounts, IT, marketing, aftersales, etc… ?

When Directors/leaders focus on profit above all other metrics, guess where managers and, ultimately, other employees focus?

When managers ridicule, tease and insult staff (“harmless banter”) to improve performance, what are they teaching people about what it takes to become a successful manager, what’s acceptable and how to achieve results?

Whilst there are some exceptions, the majority of businesses in the UK are unlikely to hire a Manager with no experience in that industry. This means the “learned behaviour” they exhibit as a leader is a reflection of what they have experienced in the past – good, bad or ugly!

It’s no wonder then that the style and quality of management in any industry/sector doesn’t change a great deal.

Be careful of the examples you set through your personal and collective behaviour as managers. It gets multiplied far down into the organisation and, when succession comes mainly from within the industry, your behaviours will continue to shape the leadership style for years to come.

So ask yourself, what shadow are you and your managers casting over your employees and what behaviours are they learning and likely to repeat in the future?

How to change it
Simply asking, or issuing, instructions to managers to be more professional, more inspirational, work together better as a team, break down the barriers between departments etc., will not have any positive effect on their behaviour over the long term. Neither will putting them on a leadership course that teaches them how to be a leader.

If you want long-term and sustainable change in the way you and your managers lead the business, you have to change the way they, and other staff, think first. Nothing else works!
Our tried and trusted approach to changing culture – and achieving sustainable improvements in performance and results focuses on four key areas:

  1. Giving people real and genuine belief in themselves and their ability to brilliantly contribute.
  2. Giving managers the inspiring leadership skills to be able to motivate everyone to give their best day in, day out and constantly exceed objectives.
  3. Giving clarity and meaning to the company direction and its strategies by igniting a passion in everyone to live, eat and breathe the values and behaviours that sends performance ballistic.
  4. Developing an “unstoppable” one-team spirit so that the organisation works much more effectively together – ending “turf wars” and “silos” between departments.

It may sound simple enough, although getting each of the four key areas absolutely right simultaneously seems to elude most organisations, in most sectors, most of the time. This is because, whilst it may be simple … it’s certainly not easy to achieve!

This is specialist work for which Sewells is renowned. Our methodology is not some fanciful “pink and fluffy” theory – it’s hard-nosed, tried and tested, business improvement learned over 51 years of working in all business sectors.

Does this resonate with you? If so, we’d be happy to have a confidential chat with you about how you can build this kind of culture in your business. Call us today on 01244 681068. You’ll be really glad you did!

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