hero 7 Leadership Behaviors

7 Leadership Behaviors that Strengthen Organizational Purpose and Culture

The main idea: Only 7 of 69 leadership behaviors strongly correlated to improved culture and strengthened purpose/mission.

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Among the steps of effective culture change detailed in i4cp’s wildly popular book, Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company, Step #4 is an important one: Define the Desired Behaviors.

Once a company defines what its desired new culture will (and will not) be, organizations that are successful in their culture renovation efforts identify the new behaviors that all leaders—from senior executives to middle managers to front-line managers—must exhibit (as well as avoid) to support the culture.

These behaviors will differ depending on the organization and type of culture desired, but clearly and constantly communicating about, modeling, and embodying these behaviors on the part of the CEO and senior team is critical to success. It’s also important to weave this into leadership development curriculums, as well as measuring and rewarding the desired behaviors among the organization’s leaders. At the very least, the defined leadership behaviors should be components of the company’s performance management process.

The findings of a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), Leadership Redefined, reinforce what our culture research revealed—the inarguable and demonstrable impact of the behavior of leaders on the health and viability of their organizations.

About the study

The study asked 673 business professionals to identify the leadership behaviors that they perceived to markedly increase in importance during 2020—and will likely remain essential for years to come. Of the nearly six dozen behaviors listed in the survey, analysis found that only seven strongly correlated to both an improved culture and a strengthened purpose / mission during the year. Naturally, there are many more that are relevant in various ways to purpose and culture, but what is special about these seven?

Slide showing 7 leadership behaviors in a venn diagram

Boundaryless Leadership

Three of the seven behaviors describe a “boundaryless leader”—someone who works to bridge gaps, break through barriers, and eliminates artificial, unnecessary boundaries:

  • Identifies and breaks down structural silos
  • Builds relationship at all levels within the organization
  • Actively moves resources, including talent, across traditional boundaries to solve problems

These three behaviors build on each other perfectly. If silos are strong in an organization, it will be difficult to do much of anything across departments or divisions. Identifying and breaking down structural silos sets the stage for a leader to build relationships across the organization. Having strong relationships opens the door for a savvy leader to better solve problems by sharing resources and talent where their value will be highest. Success achieved in this way serves to further the organization’s purpose, and the behaviors of such a leader will be seen by other leaders and all employees as a cultural model for how to effectively get work done.

Talent Developer

Three more of the seven behaviors are found in leaders who focus on talent development: for themselves, their teams, and others around them:

  • Continually seeks to personally learn and grow
  • Provides opportunities for others to learn and grow
  • Advocates for others
  • Ensures learning and best practices are freely shared across the organization

Leaders who continually seek to learn and grow not only improve many facets of their roles as leaders, they also model a learning culture—a key element of a robust organizational culture. The value of this is evident in the growing number of organizations following Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s lead in emphasizing that they expect all employees, including leaders, to be learn-it-alls rather than know-it-alls.

Extending this passion for learning and growth to a leader’s team pays direct dividends from the learning itself, and also cements key elements of a positive culture. More generally advocating for others, including peers, members of under-represented groups, or project team members from other parts of the organization, is an additional way to support talent development in the organization. Such advocating for others can take the forms of sponsorship, mentoring, coaching, etc., each of which afford the leader the opportunity to solidify the culture and organization’s purpose with each interaction.

These talent developer behaviors work best in conjunction with the boundaryless leader behaviors described earlier, and that is most clear for the seventh behavior that correlated with stronger culture and purpose in 2020. As opposed to hoarding resources and knowledge and looking out for only themselves or their immediate team, leaders who openly share learning and best practices across the organization will both improve how the organization fulfills its purpose today and further the learning culture that is key to its success tomorrow.

There are many more leadership behaviors that no doubt strengthen an organization’s culture and dedication to its purpose. But these seven behaviors that involve focusing on talent development and actively working past, around, and through boundaries are ones to keep top of mind.

Thomas Stone is a Senior Research Analyst at i4cp

Thomas Stone
Tom is a Senior Research Analyst at i4cp, with over two decades of experience as a writer, researcher, and speaker in the learning and development and broader human capital industry. He is also author of multiple books, including co-authoring Interact and Engage! 75+ Activities for Virtual Training, Meetings, and Webinars (second edition from ATD Press, 2022).