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How You Can Help Your Organization Address Leadership and Cultural Challenges


Cara Valentino

Date Published

Feb 09, 2017
6 minute read

Organizational culture, leadership, performance, and job satisfaction are all inextricably linked. Numerous studies have shown that employees want and need more coaching, mentoring, and training from either internal or external resources. I’ve seen individuals and entire organizations experience better performance, improved leadership, and increased job satisfaction as a direct result of these types of coaching and training programs.

However, in certain situations, coaching, mentoring, or training aren’t the best or most effective solutions to address an issue. Some issues are culture-based, rather than individual or even team performance-based. In those cases, coaching or training will rarely produce the desired result.

In this blog, we’ll start to look at what constitutes a “cultural challenge” versus a “leadership challenge”, which is more performance- or style and competency-based. We’ve included an assessment that offers immediate feedback on ways you can help your organization address leadership and/or cultural challenges it may be facing.

Trends in the Market

As a certified executive coach, I’ve noticed a trend: some organizations see coaching as a panacea and use coaches to solve every kind of issue. Some scenarios I’ve seen include:

  • A difficult supervisor gets outstanding results but is damaging employee morale
  • A leadership team doesn’t make its annual, financial, or productivity targets
  • There is a merger or restructuring underway
  • A new leader is promoted or hired into a highly visible and challenging role

On the surface, it would appear that coaching and training could be effective solutions to work through these situations, but that’s not necessarily the case. Let’s take a closer look at two of these scenarios to understand why a challenge could be either culture-based or leadership performance-based.

Scenario 1: A difficult supervisor gets outstanding results but is damaging employee morale

A senior leader was hired to bring new results to a long-standing organization. This leader produced outstanding results, but was so difficult to work with that the organization was in danger of losing valuable employees. After these concerns were brought to the leader’s attention, he asked for help so he could build better relationships with his staff while also achieving results.

The organization used a 360-degree assessment across his staff and with other leaders to create a baseline understanding of the communication challenges affecting his success in leading his teams. Based on the feedback, the organization designed specific interventions to support new behaviors in the short- and long-term. These interventions held the leader accountable for sustainable change by adding several specific outcomes – both business and leadership – to his performance measurements.

In this scenario, coaching could transform this supervisor’s behavior and affect business outcomes for two primary reasons. First, the leader was willing to be coached and willing to change. Second, his outcomes were tied to his performance and leadership behaviors.

Let’s look at another scenario:

Scenario 2: A new leader is promoted or hired into a highly visible and challenging role

A senior leadership team requested that several new managers in one division receive coaching to support them in their highly visible, stretch roles. Coaches created a leadership cohort with this group of new managers. In the cohort, these leaders worked together to create a new division strategy while learning critical leadership and collaboration skills.

When the leadership cohort presented its new division strategy to the senior leadership team, they learned that a strategy and associated performance metrics had actually already been determined for their division – and that their inputs were not required.

Senior leaders incorporated none of the outcomes designed by the cohort into the managers’ performance or bonus metrics. What is more, per the strategy created by senior leadership, the new manager who achieved the highest sales, independently and without collaboration or her team’s involvement, was rewarded with a high-achiever award at the end of the cohort.

In this scenario, the organizational culture prevented the effectiveness of coaching and leadership development for several reasons. First, the senior leadership team did not actually instill any decision-making authority into the cohort. Second, the organization’s culture rewarded individual achievement over cohort collaboration. Third, new leadership behaviors were not rewarded or tied to outcomes. Coaching and training could improve individual and group leadership skills, but in this instance, a deeper culture issue acted as a roadblock to achieving new and more impactful results for the organization.

As these two examples demonstrate, successful executive coaching requires more than just a strong leader with good emotional intelligence (EQ). You have to take a deeper look at the organization, its leadership, its employees, and its culture to understand if you’re facing a problem that needs a coach or culture fix – or a blend of the two.

So how do you know if you have a leadership or an organizational culture issue?

Take our assessment to find out whether coaching, a culture intervention, or a blend of both might help you and your organization achieve the next levels of performance. At the end of the assessment, you’ll get immediate feedback on ways you can help your organization address leadership or cultural challenges it may be facing.

If you or your organization are struggling with leadership or culture-based challenges, The Clearing provides organizational culture change consulting and  leadership development programs to help organizations achieve peak performance. Contact The Clearing to discuss your needs.