Culture Change And The Unpopular Leader

By Joseph Tan|18-08-2018 | 4 Min Read
Organisation Culture Change: Are You A Visionary Leader?

What is the difference between a leader and a politician? It is the attitude towards personal popularity. Instead of focusing on potential votes, the leader focuses on the rightness of his cause and his mission.

Here’s the truth – followers who form the majority do not usually welcome any changes to their comfort zone.
Yet, leaders, by definition, are those that have a righteous discontent with the status quo and seek to achieve that which is yet to be understood by others – a definite recipe for unpopularity.

This is the case when an organisation goes through a ‘culture transformation initiative’. More often than not, the emphasis is on cascading programmes rather than building a strong team of change agents who are not afraid to be unpopular.

The success of your organisation’s culture change depends on whether you act as an unpopular leader or play the role of a popular politician.

What are the benefits of being an “unpopular leader”? 

1.You will achieve long-term goals. 
Leaders see a vision which others do not. This is because most people are only focused on immediate gratification and are not willing to commit themselves to a greater cause. Sure, there will be opposition to your goals, but when you experience the fruits of your labour, you will have the final satisfaction.

2.You will gain authentic friendships and relationships. 
Nothing sieves out your fair-weather friends than a time of testing and hardship. In the workplace, are you constantly aiming to meet the goals of your employer or are you more concerned about what your colleagues might say?
Do not sacrifice doing what is right for the sake of pleasing the crowd.

3.You will offer wisdom to the next generation. 
Your employees, your children – they are all watching you. Character is more often caught than taught. If you live your life by popular opinion, then there is no real value-add from you that will impact their lives.

The degree of your unpopularity is directly proportional to the single-mindedness of your vision. Practically speaking, you do not need to go around looking for unpopularity – it will come as a result of the strength of your vision for the culture transformation.

Have a clear focus on your vision 

Your job as a leader is to keep the focus clear and avoid distractions at all cost. Your effectiveness as a leader is to determine that your followers also understand and accept the clarity of that vision as well.

There is no such thing as an over-communication of vision.

Here are three leadership actions for you to take in order to stay focused and single-minded:

1.Recognise contribution 

Be attentive to what others are doing – in particular, employees need to see a correlation between their effort and the ensuing results. Even indirect tasks like administration needs to be recognised and praised. Do not spend so much time behind closed doors that you are no longer aware of what others are doing.

2.Reprove deviance

Let’s face it – there are plenty of distractions during the day. The seriousness of your vision is tested by your courage to reprimand those who do not contribute to the overall goal. If those who deviate are not brought back to line, you will be taken as a weak leader and lose the respect of your team.

3.Reinforce communication

Silence is not golden. In fact, unless the leader speaks up, others will take advantage and misinterpret your silence to their advantage. In other words, if you do not speak regularly to your team, who will? The one whom people listen to often enough ends up being the one they will follow. The path to the heart is usually through the ears.
Be a visionary 

A manager, when promoted, looks forward to better perks and compensation. On the other hand, a leader who is promoted seeks greater challenges and a higher vision. Companies are seeking visionaries who are clear about where they are going. As they get there, the prospect of opposition does not hinder them – it only motivates them to do better and become stronger. If it means being unpopular along the way, then so be it.

The way to achieve your vision of culture transformation requires leadership courage rather than just leadership competency.

Let us help you drive change. Watch this video and gain trust from your employees.

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Joseph is a Leaderonomics faculty trainer who is passionate about engaging with leaders to transform culture in organisations. Previously, he was CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. He is currently based in the United States
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