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Published on April 18, 2018

It’s all your fault – the dark side of leadership

A leader is someone who has followers. Every leader is sometimes frustrated because people don’t follow. I, at least, have spent several dark moments trying to figure out why “they”, the people that were supposed to follow me, don’t get it.

You know the pattern. You have a new, brilliant strategy. You discuss it thoroughly with your team. Everyone looks like being excited. Then they go back to work and keep doing the old things. You try all kinds of change leadership things. Your team sticks to the old ways of thinking and doing.

Over time, it turns out that your brilliant strategy really was a brilliant one. But while you and your team were, still rather successfully, repeating the old tricks, your competitors moved faster and you lost the edge you could have had. So much about the brilliance. A brilliant plan only makes a difference if it is executed.

Why don’t they get it? Why don’t they change and implement the new strategy? The answer is culture. People don’t come to work to implement a strategy. Very few of them come to run a business. Some come to execute a process, some come to do tasks and close tickets. But most people come to work to repeat habits. If you want people to change you’ll have to change their habits. It is about the same as changing the culture. Sure, people want to understand the strategy. They may get excited about the visions and missions. But they do habits.

Here’s the catch. The better a leader you are the stronger a culture you have built. Cultures are known to eat strategies for breakfast. If you persistently feed a new strategy to a strong culture it keeps eating it all – and it gets a terrible ache in its stomach. Cultures gain strength by eating strategies. But because their stomachs are aching from the new strategies they turn into bad cultures. Now you have a bad and strong culture. And it keeps eating strategies for breakfast.

I doubt if it is possible to transform a strong culture incrementally. Corporate culture is the common story that the members of the corporation have bought into. It is possible to transform a weak culture into a different one and make it strong but it may be impossible to change a strong culture without destroying it first. When you destroy a culture you attack your team members’ professional identities. It hurts. You will lose some great people. There may be a lot of damage. The only way to change a strong culture may be to make it weak first.

It’s all your fault. As a leader, it is your fault if change doesn’t happen. You have failed to lead the change or you have failed to recruit right kind of people. By the way, if you ask your team, they may tell it’s also your fault that you attacked the good, old culture. Cultures don’t eat strategies only. They also eat leaders. Welcome to the dark side of leadership!

But if it’s all your fault, you are still in control. You have everything it takes to change a culture. If you know what you want your only constraints are time and energy.