Leadership, Culture and Normalisation of Deviance; A Lesson From a (my) Teenager

October 29, 2020by admin0

The current COVID pandemic has got me thinking about organisational leadership; or probably more importantly how not to lead an organisation. A lot has already been written about leadership and culture, almost in a mythological way, by some who are trying to build it into something more complex than it really is.

This isn’t complex; believe me. My teenager (and another just out of their teen’s) simplified it to the extreme……. Consistency of direction and a willingness to follow. Step out of the organisational ‘rat-race’, for a moment if you will, and put yourself into ‘normal’, home-life within a family unit……

I live in Wales. It is, last time I looked it up, part of the United Kingdom; however, it has the ability to write certain legislation, applicable to the people of Wales only.

We are, as I write, still under ‘lockdown’ in Wales (unable to travel more than 5 miles from our home) due to the COVID pandemic; whilst five miles away (as the crow flies), England has a completely differing set of rules governing lockdown. “Why, Dad?”…. ” Why is it I can go to school and be with 10’s of students from (up to) twenty miles away, indoors, in a classroom; yet I can’t meet with three of my friends (from differing households), outdoors, whilst I socially distance?”….. Woha! Great question!!

As a ‘manager’ within my house, I must enforce the rules (policy) from ‘above’ and the ‘processes’ (how the Findlay’s team do their household tasks). I may not fully understand why we have certain rules, or even fully agree with some of those rules and I know that not all information is equal (why is scientific evidence in London, different from scientific evidence in Cardiff….

Another great, simple, question I cannot explain to her, fully), but I have to apply it in a pragmatic (managerial) way……”I don’t make the rules, sweetheart, we just have to do it.”…….. Her reply, “Well, all my friends are meeting up. Their parents (managers) are letting them”….

This sounding familiar yet? My son now chips in…… ”Well; I’ll travel back to Uni now as I can got to the pub in England and I can have more ‘freedom’, and anyway….who’s going to know?” Errrrrrr….. No! That’s not what the intent of the legislation is; so no, you can’t.

Cue, retreat to his sister (and social media) and bemoan the biblical unfairness of it all and his ‘manager’s’ resolute inflexible approach to accepting that what everyone else is doing is normal and legal. How the hours fly by, in my house!

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is a very brief lesson in how not to lead either a country or an organisation.

Unclear policy; weak leadership; sporadic direction; fragmented and widely differing approaches; unenforceable process and woefully inadequate communication. How often do we stumble across this in our workplace?

The manager’s lot, of having to apply strategic direction into a tactical environment is monumentally challenging. Leadership’s (senior Management team) role is not just to ‘fire and forget.’ It is about nurturing, steering and supporting.

Leadership’s role has to include communicating, why and selling the vision and need for change. Without this fundamental foundation stone, there is now a flaw in the Senior Manager’s vision, as I (in the next tier of management) don’t know why we’re taking that particular direction, and more importantly I don’t buy into that direction….

I do it because, “that’s what I was told to do”; and that builds barriers between the strategic belief and the tactical view of those managers. To cap it all, is that I will probably still do it ‘my way’ as I have a target to fulfil and I’ll tell senior managers what they want to hear. ‘A ‘sea of green’ on my targets and metrics pie chart.

Take this attitude down a level in the organisation and we have our workforce doing exactly to their supervisors and managers what has just been done to the Senior Leadership team. With no clear direction from the management (at any level), communication of objectives and no measurement of success or enforcement of compliance…… Boom!….. Culture formation at work!

Just how do we fix it? …… Well; sitting with my family and discussing the environment we are currently facing and allowing them to air their concerns and clarifying any ‘false news’ or ‘my friend says….’ information and how we could apply and shape a new normal.

Giving them the feeling that they have shaped the new ‘Findlay Family household’ norm, that its partly their idea. It is gratifying overhearing conversations with their peers where they are able to present a balanced, “No, I can’t, because I feel that’s wrong” stance.

The approach we need to take in business is certainly more complex, due to the number of stakeholders involved; but the scale should not dictate the direction. Leadership’s role is about selling the vision and getting people on board; it’s about the consistency of approach (A certain Government advisor springs to mind here) and a willingness to listen to information coming up through the organisation.

Management’s role is about living that vision and challenging the pockets of differing approach we may see, and asking, ‘could this be a new ‘norm’’ – Continuous Improvement; and staff’s engagement and willingness to follow, but also realise that they have a duty not to just blindly follow others and to challenge where they see others ‘habits’ or behaviours, impacting the norm.

So; Mr. Johnston, Mr. Drakeford…… Ignore it at your peril……


You may also read: A Novel Approach in Ensuring Compliance

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