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Don’t Forget This Conduit to Great Culture

When I reflect on some of the crucible moments I experienced as a leader in my past, I’m reminded that the best outcomes were the result of the confidence I shared not only with those immediately in my leadership team, but the trust I regularly encountered beyond the C-Suite.

I’ve learned that leaders don’t create trust in a vacuum. Much like a stone creates a ripple effect in the water when it lands on the surface, smart leaders form trustworthy relationships within their leadership team and then depend on that network to model trust with their own ripple of colleagues, managers, direct reports, and so on.

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Jim Harter, Chief Scientist at Gallup and bestselling author, explains that “A leader’s success depends on their reputation extending beyond their closest confidants. It is only through second- and third-degree connections that your networks become influential.” Harter says the engagement of leaders extends to the engagement of managers, which then extends to the front line. It’s the manager who ultimately forms trust in all levels of the organization.

Curt Coffman and Kathie Sorensen, coauthors of Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch, say that effective cultures are cultivated in three primary domains—micro-, bridge-, and macro-culture—where the manager’s role is key in each one. In an engaging and supportive culture, employees “feel they have a productive two-way relationship with their manager and their team.” The manager has the most important influence on an employee’s effectiveness. If a manager knows the employee and builds trust, then constructive feedback works and a productive relationship ensues.

These productive relationships are at the core of healthy cultures and the ability to facilitate organizational change. And while attention to leadership has increased over the years, it’s critical that we remember the manager’s role is also growing to meet the demands of our evolving marketplace and increasingly sophisticated customer. For example, managers can:

  • Influence front-line employees.
  • Innovate and create better systems for productivity.
  • Facilitate the adoption of new directions for the company.
  • Provide real-time feedback about product/service enhancements or changes.
  • Provide the essential “connective tissue” throughout an organization’s hierarchy.

Why this matters: Information is not transformation. Leaders cannot simply articulate a vision and expect it to be so. It requires the trust and confidence from everyone in the organization. Managers, in particular, are the conduit for implementation while representing the greatest opportunity for success or failure. It’s essential that leaders monitor how trust is flowing throughout the organization beyond the first ripple. If well cultivated, any wave of change is possible.

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