Guiseppe Garibaldi, the old soldier-patriot who unified Italy in the mid-nineteenth century, following his military campaign was quoted as saying, “We have made Italy, now we must make Italians”

In South Africa the ‘Proudly South African’ campaign is widely known and I recall my colleague, Barrie once saying something along the lines of, “They’ve missed the point on this…’proudly South African’ should not refer to a ‘product’ but rather be a set of behaviors…behaviors that, if lived, could then make anyone, anywhere ‘South African”. Both Garibaldi and Barrie make sense. What they are pointing towards is the realization of an authentic living of a particular culture, or set of values. They are pointing to something deeper, more elusive but ultimately, more desirable and transferable than what we tend to focus on.

Now think about the culture within your company. How do you get to an authentic realization of people living your desired culture much like there was once the renown, ‘IBM Man’? Your culture, and there always is ‘a culture’, is a vital part of any organisation. The culture is essentially ‘how things get done’ and reveals attitudes, displays behaviors and determines the ‘climate’ within your environment. If we’re to be honest, this reality seldom reflects what is written on the corporate walls by way of mission statements, values etc…

Your organisational culture will benchmark your company’s learning mentality; the ability to bounce back or adapt to change; the ability to innovate or tough it out. It shapes important organisational elements such as a sense of belonging, motivation and accountability. Essentially it is the very oxygen, the quality of air that will either allow you to thrive or deprive you of the needed resources to ‘live’. It is that important.

But most leaders don’t do enough work to fully understand ‘organisational culture’ and how they influence it, for good or for bad.  There is no shortage of resources on the subject but not all of it helpful and invariably the resources point to quick fixes and band-aid approachs that often only mask the real problems.

So where to start? Well for one, how about having some real conversations with people within your organisation about how they experience things? If they do talk freely, or don’t talk freely will in itself be a strong indicator of the quality of ‘your air’. How about walking the floor and learning to observe, to ‘listen with your eyes’ as Malcolm Gladwell calls it in his book, Blink? How about sitting down with a cultural anthropologist and getting some basic frameworks for an expert in the field and could then be applied to your organisation? How about dropping in to select meetings as an observer and see how things are being done?

How about doing some thinking on the matter? The source of organisational culture starts with you, the CEO. It may just be the most important part of your leadership responsibilities – I’m prepared to bet, it may also be the most neglected?

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