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Leadership is not an individual act

BIG IDEA

Organizations need to focus on revisiting and strengthening their cultures right now.

“All organizations have lost a step or two, in terms of what their culture means—there’s been a slight degradation,” Andrew Pateman, the vice president of people, culture, and performance at Canadian Blood Services, told me recently on our Lead the Future podcast.

Like many other organizations, Canadian Blood Services has found that their culture has taken a hit post-pandemic. “We’ve had hundreds of new employees join the organization during the pandemic, who have never had the in-person, in-office apprenticeship experience of working with their colleagues,” Pateman said. “Some of the newer employees are saying, ‘What is this culture of which you speak?’”

WHY IT MATTERS

Community and accountability go hand in hand.

Canadian Blood Services is a complex national nonprofit organization with about 3,600 employees. It runs blood drives, but it also facilitates stem cell transplants and organ transplants, collects plasma, and is involved in cutting-edge research and manufacturing in health care and pharmaceuticals. Pateman and other senior leaders at the organization know that leadership culture is absolutely critical to upholding high standards and continuing to keep the organization at the forefront of new developments in lifesaving research.

“Leadership is not an individual act,” Pateman said in our discussion. “When you become a leader at Canadian Blood Services, you become part of a community. And we try to make sure that we nurture and nourish that community, but as a community that comes with accountability.” For Pateman, there’s no contradiction between creating a supportive, nurturing environment at work and holding leaders accountable to get results and maintain high standards—the two go hand in hand.

THE IMPACT

Leadership culture has a direct relationship to performance.

Our research has repeatedly found a strong connection between an organization’s performance and the strength of its leadership community. Industry-leading companies have strong leadership cultures with a high degree of collaboration and a high degree of accountability. Poor performers have weak leadership cultures, where leaders compete with one another and focus on internal politics instead of pulling together as a team.

For Canadian Blood Services, that connection has always been crystal clear. “Our tagline is ‘head and heart leadership,’” Pateman said. “It deeply resonates with our employees, because we’re giving them permission to be empathetic, to be thoughtful, to nurture, be authentic, and at the same time, be committed to meeting measurable targets and set rigorous and ambitious goals—all those things wrapped together in one.”

WHAT TO PAY ATTENTION TO

Leaders need to put organizational culture explicitly on the agenda.

Pateman shared three key steps he is encouraging his leaders to take, in order to get all employees recommitted to the culture of excellence Canadian Blood Services aims to cultivate:

 

  1. “Go and see.” Pateman has encouraged leaders at all levels to be visible with their teams, and to visit and talk with other teams throughout the organization. “It’s important that you hear them, you understand what their operational challenges are, and you work with them to solve problems. Visibility is going to be fundamental,” he said.
  2. Create a healthy and inclusive work environment. Pateman noted that employees at all levels have experienced a lot of stress over the past few years. He said that leaders need to be mindful of not piling on too much work and creating more stress and burnout for their teams.
  3. Lead culture conversations. Many organizations have experienced a kind of culture drift over the past few years. It is up to leaders to open up conversations about what the organization’s culture should look like. “Leaders need to find ways of creating those conversations with their teams, bringing them together in the right way, and modeling the behaviors that we want leaders to demonstrate,” Pateman said.

NEXT STEPS

Take our Leadership Culture Survey to assess the health of your team or organization. Are your leaders aligned with the culture you want to create?

About Leadership Contract

We are Leadership Contract Inc (LCI), your partner in strategic leadership development. We help you operationalize leadership accountability at all levels of your organization so you can drive strategy, shape culture, and spark change.

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