Switchback Creative

What is leadership and how does it affect your culture?

December 9, 2022 | Business Journey

By Suzy Rounce

I was on a panel discussion about leadership and culture the other week. These were some of the things discussed and we thought it would be helpful to share, see what resonates with you and how your definition of leadership differs from ours. We also did a Raising a Business podcast on this topic if you would rather listen.

As the co-founder of Switchback Creative my leadership journey started with my own business 9 years ago, but my leadership lessons started a long time ago. Always playing team sports growing up I saw leadership everywhere on teams, good and bad. Then I graduated to being the captain of my club rugby team and I learned even more.

In business we work with passionate business owners, leaders in their own right, to bring their business vision to life. We use storytelling as the vehicle to market these stories to the best people who need what they do. We create brand systems, websites and use marketing tools to get that message out. We have set our company up be digital/remote work based from the start to that has served us well, but means culture needs to be a primary focus. We have a collective of anywhere from 10-20 collaborators that are specialists in their field that we work with consistently. They are also leaders and teammates for our clients and in their own work.

When it comes to leadership we guide the business leaders we work with to build strong brands that support their people, build trust, improve communication and in turn serve their clients and teams better. Leadership building is a big part of what we do internally and for businesses.

Defining Leadership

I define leadership as needing to guide people to be the best version of themselves. To use your experience and understanding of who they are to collectively move toward their goals and yours. Leadership is having a cause that people want to rally behind and through a shared vision are able to work towards something that is part of a greater good or a bigger cause. Helping those around you with their personal mastery. My leadership skills started playing team sports and realizing that having a collective understanding and shared goals got our team further, and it was more fun. Captaining my rugby team in my early twenties for many years taught me so much about how to motivate, listen and lead by example. It all translates so well to business. The best businesses are set-up as teams and while I don’t see business as a winning or losing situation, working towards a greater cause is worth putting in the effort for. As I work with more business owners, I see how listening is such an active part of great leadership.

One of the biggest joys as a leader is seeing others do things they didn’t know they could. Watching people grow their skills, overcome obstacles and achieve more than they thought. It’s amazing watching our team explore and grow their confidence. Working through hard things and seeing the results on the other side is very rewarding. Taking on projects that once seemed too big or too hard or too different.

Making tough decisions

Making tough decisions is always a part of great leadership. I see it as something that you should always be looking out for and ready to make, the more decisive you can be about tough decisions the better. Listening to those involved and seeing it from all sides is super important but in the end your gut and intuition in combination with the facts at hand is a great indicator of what decision you need to make. Often the harder the decision feels the more likely you need to make it, don’t ignore it. Sometimes just making a decision is the most important part! Either way you can move forward and alter your course and stay nimble and agile.

Is your team underperforming?

If you have people on your team who seem to be underperforming, ask yourself a few of these questions.

  • Are their job roles and responsibilities clearly outlined?
  • Do they know what you consider as a way to measure their success?
  • Do they know the vision and story you are working towards and are they part of building the larger vision for your direction?
  • Have you had a candid conversation with them about where they are at and what you are seeing?
  • Do they feel like they are contributing to the greater purpose and why?

Accountability is such a great thing for leaders and team members to have. Holding yourself accountable to do what you said you would builds trust. If they trust you will protect them, they will step up. That then in turn means that you have built the trust to call them out, if needed. Really listen to what they are saying and collectively come up with the solution.

Boosting moral can come in so many forms. Working on side projects the team is excited about, spending more time listening and implementing changes. Spending time together. Building your brand vision and purpose. Brainstorm new products, services, promotions. What does the team seem excited about? How can you let them run with it? Leadership means you are in charge of the people who will get you the results you want. It’s not your job to directly get the results.

Positive work culture means people feel safe, inspired and that they have all the tools they need to create something meaningful in their daily work life. You need to provide them all the pieces to make that happen. Not having one of these aspects can mean they don’t feel like they are moving the needle or feeling useful. What is your team telling you they need? Money is rarely the motivator or key indicator of why someone stays or leaves. They might tell you it is, but the stats say otherwise. Contribution, opportunity, and purpose are bigger drivers to retaining great people. Can they grow into skills and positions they want? Are they able to actively contribute to the company goals? Does your company have a purpose, story or cause – the legacy of people feeling like they are doing good in the work they do, not just working and then thinking about how to do good later.

Are leaders born or made?

They are made! It’s a skillset just like anything else. Playing team sports helps a lot to develop skills that help with leadership. Even more so your experience of what you have seen in your past of people that have been good or bad leader and learning from that. I’m a big fan of leadership books and biographies what have leaders done in the past and what do they think about it. Simon Sinek’s Infinite Game is perfect for this one or Leaders Eat Last. He talks so much about protecting and leading your people in a direction that has a higher purpose or cause. Let my people go surfing is another good one about Patagonia’s founder and Loop Tail is a personal favourite, another great one about building purpose into the work you do that makes you more successful and well known. None of that is done as an afterthought. Do good while making money, not make money then do good.

Just because you are an entrepreneur and run a company doesn’t mean you should automatically have leadership skills. We all work at them and keep evolving our ideas on what leadership is. Embrace and take on the challenge just like anything else but the rewards are so much more gratifying.