Leadership Cultures

I am convinced that leadership culture is one of the most important issues when it comes to leadership success or failure. As I mentioned in another blog, we don’t talk about nations or ethnicity when we talk about culture in this context, but rather about the specific culture that you and I build as leaders.

When Henry Ford started his streamline production of cars he created a culture after a set of goals and for a given time. The product was the most important. Efficiency and all operations had to be very simple so that people did not need advanced education or qualifications to do them. Keeping a high level of unqualified workers that could be paid less gave more income.  He created jobs and it was a success for his time.

Bringing us up to today, we have other companies like Apple and Google. What has changed? The complexity of information, the wide spectrum of data a person needs to deal with, and going from being unqualified with simple repetitive and monotone tasks to now having highly qualified people with highly complicated tasks to complete.

If we move forward with new companies like Uber and AirBnb we see that they even go even further and are changing the norms that society has been functioning by for generations.

What does this mean for leadership?  This talk is needed in every organization because things are changing. We can lead the changes or we can be forced to follow. Or we can simply be happy where we are and go in for a happy end of our organization.

When Ford created his culture it was about industrial workers, where the worker was a chess piece that was moved around as the top leaders decided. They came in one door and the leadership drove in another door. There was a clock on the wall that everyone had to step into.  There was a little say and no process or involvement in decisions. The only organ that spoke for the workers was the workers union.

Many churches and organizations have kept this culture and mentality and instead of growing they face stagnation and frustration.  Today it´s our people that are our greatest resource, and leaders that are able to create a culture where people are seen, celebrated and challenged are leaders that will see their organization grow, not because of a product but because of the environment that they will be a part of is so innovative.

I live in a nation that has had a patriarchic culture, meaning that the leader has or has had all the power, and the Ford mentality has been the preferred leadership style. When I came here in the middle of the 90´ it was a society with a high level of chaos and disorder. We went through a time where many leaders’ most important goal was to build the kingdom, whatever prince needed. In the West we look at this as stealing and corruption, but that was just one of the sides of it. I work with an organization and similar things happening there, holding on to Western contacts and sponsors. People were hired through friendships and needs of contacts. But there was one leader on the top setting the culture, hardly any or no accountability as the one on the top controls money and resources.
The model for many was U.S. and Western mission and relief workers renting nice places, driving Toyotas and bringing in humanitarian aid.

Let’s bring it up to today. I am sitting in a super modern mall in the city looking at shops that are the same in New York as they are here, listening to music that is playing in any mall all over the globe. Where the young people look and act just like in any other city around the globe. They are born around 2000 and later and have no reference to Communism and they don’t define themselves as poor or view their nation as poor either. They fight corruption and look at corrupt leaders as small and unworthy. They take to the street and share their point of view and 25 years after the Revolution they mobilize more people than back in ‘89 because they are all connected through smart phones and social media and are totally fed up with corrupt leaders and politicians.

In all of this they don’t respect the old patriarchs as they did not live up to their positions as the young generation demanded. They want to see transparency, integrity and leaders that challenge them to go into new ways.

For many leaders this reality has and will hit hard, as the young people cannot be silenced with the old methods anymore- like I do this for you and you do this for me, or shaming and blaming.

I have experienced this myself. I was invited to a leaders meeting with a larger organization where the leader in front of everyone shamed me and my organization. It was a problem that was not a problem but he made sure to set an example. For me what he did was just revealing that he was a small leader, at least on the inside.

The problem is that the young, educated and resource filled generation will not follow this kind of leader.  Meaning that if organizations and churches don’t have things together and are 100% correct, we will loose people.

It also means that leadership training becomes a new challenge for us. Do leaders have something to give away? Or is it the young ones that need to teach the generation above them?

Till next time

Rune Saether


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