8 Critical Skills Managers Need to Positively Lead Culture

Posted by Jenni Catron on Feb 7, 2024 12:00:00 AM

8 Critical Skills Managers Need to Lead Culture Positively


The health of your team is directly related to how your leaders manage. When my team and I are working with organizations to help them improve their culture, we often find that a major obstacle to improving their culture is the inconsistency of their leaders. 


With one particular organization, I was incredibly baffled by the challenges they were experiencing. They were showing all the usual symptoms of a toxic culture - significant staff turnover, gossip, and mistrust. But when we did our staff-wide survey, the team indicated a great deal of camaraderie and love for their leaders. The data seemed completely at odds, and so we dug in deeper. What we discovered was that while the staff loved and appreciated each other, they had no trust in how their leaders made decisions. While they respected their leaders as individuals, they didn’t respect their leadership skills. This finding reinforced what we repeatedly see - too often, people are promoted for their competence and likability but are not trained and equipped for management responsibility. 


When we talk about leadership development as it relates to team culture, we have to focus on developing your managers.


There is a fascinating shift that has taken place in the last couple of decades. Executive leaders used to be the most looked to for vision, direction, and guidance. Employees today look more to their direct manager for these things. The expectations of managers are perhaps greater than ever. Not only are they responsible for ensuring their team executes the organization’s goals, but they are also expected to be career counselors, coaches, and mentors. For many new leaders, this can feel like an impossible expectation.


Organizations that build great cultures recognize that they have to develop and support their managers disproportionately. 


While this is in no way an exhaustive list of leadership skills, I’m sharing eight of the most critical skills managers need to demonstrate in order to lead culture positively.  


1. Self-leadership

The single greatest skill every leader needs is to lead themselves well. Self-leadership is a commitment to consistent growth, discipline, and doing the right thing for the sake of those you lead. Self-leadership is taking responsibility for your growth and development and recognizing what you need in order to serve and lead others well. 


2. Emotional Intelligence - taught and modeled

The superpower of the best leaders is emotional intelligence. We live in a time when much of our work can be replicated by machines and AI. But what can not be reproduced authentically are the skills that have historically been referred to as “soft skills”, meaning the skills required to emotionally connect and interact effectively with others. I believe that no matter how many job functions AI replaces, the need for leaders who can relate and respond to humans will be the differentiating behavior. 


3. Communication

I hold a deep conviction that good communication is an act of respect for others. Even with this strong belief, I fail miserably and frequently when it comes to communicating. Communicating well and consistently is incredibly challenging.


George Bernard Shaw said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. Most of us think we are better communicators than we are. To be a good communicator requires intentionality. And when I say “be a good communicator”, I’m not referring to public speaking, I’m talking about learning the best practices that allow your everyday interactions to provide the clarity and direction that equips others to succeed. 


4. Decision-making 

Does your team understand how you make decisions, or is it always a guessing game for them in determining what you will do? I often hear from teams that they don’t understand how decisions are made in their organization. They lack clarity about who has the authority to make what decisions. This often results in complacency - team members get exhausted by trying to figure it out, which in turn leads to a lack of action. At its extreme, finger-pointing and blaming occur as no one takes ownership because they are not sure if the decisions are within their power. 


There are a number of different tools for decision-making. The culture of your leaders, the lifecycle of your organization, and other factors may play a part in determining how decisions are made. The important part of decision-making, as it impacts culture, is that your team understands how decisions are made. It should not be a guessing game for them. 


5. Delegation - consistent, clear

Leaders empower others by delegating. The problem with delegation is that most leaders approach it from two extremes and, in my opinion, unhelpful perspectives:


  1. They delegate to get stuff off their own plate. Essentially, it’s all about them as leaders and what they can get rid of.
  2. They are afraid to delegate because they aren’t comfortable asking others to do things. 


Delegating well requires a better perspective on the purpose of delegating. Delegating serves two very important purposes:


  1. It creates an opportunity to grow the skills of your team members, fostering an opportunity for coaching and development. 
  2. It forces you to consider what you need to let go of (delegate to others) in order to make room for the new responsibilities you need to take on and grow from.


Delegating done well allows team members at every level to continue to increase their capacity and skill set. 


6) Accountability 

“An obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”


The best teams embrace a culture of accountability. Each team member accepts responsibility for their role, and they understand that they will be expected to account for their actions. Did they fulfill their commitment? 


When team members lack for their role and their responsibilities it becomes quite difficult for them to take accountability. They don’t understand what they’re accountable for. As a result, they are often complacent or disengaged. They might deflect responsibility by claiming, “I didn’t know that was my responsibility” or “I thought someone else was doing that”. 


Accountability is only possible when organizational clarity has been provided. Where accountability goes wrong and gets labeled micromanagement is when accountability isn’t accompanied by ongoing conversations that clarify the expectations. 

7) Feedback - rhythms for 1:1, reviews

“What’s it like to be on the other side of you?" is one of the most powerful questions we can all learn to ask. Healthy teams foster a culture of feedback. Feedback is essentially evaluative communication. Remember that I said that communication is an act of respect for others? Feedback, while sometimes more personal and sensitive than standard communication of information, is the ultimate act of respect for those we engage with. Feedback done with a desire to help others grow and improve builds trust and emphasizes care. 


8) Ownership

In great cultures, every leader at every level has a deep commitment to their work, to their team, and to the mission of the organization, and they behave like owners. They show up and engage as if they were the founder. They care deeply about the work and demonstrate their commitment through the behaviors we’ve talked about so far. 


Ownership is an attitude rather than a skill, and it’s a byproduct of development. As you develop your leaders, you increase their buy-in and commitment. 


Choose one of these to focus on. Maybe discuss the list with the other managers and see where you feel the weakest as a team, and then find a resource to help you grow in this skill.


Keep leading well!


Jenni Catron and The 4Sight Group


Jenni Catron Circle

Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.

Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.




Did you know that 4Sight has a great solution for developing your people managers?

The 4Sight Leadership Institute is a leadership development training program led by myself, the 4Sight Coaching Team, and other special guest speakers. 

Through monthly video teachings, the team will train you in practical, hands-on tools to help you learn how to lead well on your journey to becoming an extraordinary leader. 

In addition, there is a monthly group video coaching call with a 4Sight Leadership Coach for discussion and application of the content.


Topics: Leadership, Culture, jenni catron, Leadership Development, Leadership Training

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