Leadership 101: Defying Culture

Disclaimer: I’m not a Leadership/Management guru . This story and my thoughts are based on the accumulated experiences and insights from people I worked with.

Today is my fourth day supervising a team of 3, composed of 2 locals and I. While my list of to-do’s just keeps piling up as 1 gets resolved and 3 new issues come up, I find myself enjoying the chaos. Yes, I do! Because I know that each issue resolved will bring the team fulfillment.

On my first day, I spent the first opportunity to meet with the team. One of my priorities in my 2-week tenure standing in as Procurement Manager is to get our team to update our Purchase Request (PR) tracker. It may sound like a simple task, but it is not. For I see that I have a different appreciation of the tracker than the rest of my teammates.

It has been a practice, and still is a practice that the tracker be updated only on Thursdays. A tracker is supposed to follow or record the movement of something. So when ours is only updated on Thursdays, how are actions on the other days tracked?

This morning, I had another brief meeting with the team and it was a little bit more intense. 4 days after our first, I can sense us sliding back down to the old ways. The instruction to update the tracker as necessary was met with stronger resistance in the form of more explanations or reasons or alibis. Don’t get me wrong, I love it that these guys voice out their opinion.

But I know I have to be stern. I reiterated my position on this matter. The tracker needs  to be updated as necessary.

To cut the long story short, my teammates expressed their cooperation in my request and will do so “until our Manager comes back”.

The Birth of a Culture

Google defines culture as “the behavior characteristics and attitudes of a particular social group”. Naturally, there are elements that shape an emerging culture. In my opinion, the two most significant factors in an office setting are: management/leadership and the environment.

Photo Credits: http://www.dentistryiq.com/articles/2013/12/leadership-tips-from-experts.html
Photo Credits: http://www.dentistryiq.com/articles/2013/12/leadership-tips-from-experts.html


Management/leadership skills of the leader defines the team and its members. The leader directs the team to a direction that will result in the success or failure. He has that power and capacity to influence and inspire its members.

The environment comprises of the resources and constraints of the team. While some of these could be changed or eliminated, some has to be learned to work around with. But again, it is up to the leader to steer the group where it should be.

Photo Credits: http://stickywallpapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/leadership-quotes-8-leadership.jpg
Photo Credits: http://stickywallpapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/leadership-quotes-8-leadership.jpg


When a culture has been deeply embedded and toughly rooted, it is very difficult to rally change. Resistance is sure to be greeting you as soon as you open your mouth. And so oftentimes, improvements and changes are foregone at the expense of stability. Efficiency and effectiveness are sacrificed in favor of the norm.


Is it really worth sacrificing change for culture? Is it really wiser to go with the flow and justify the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

I have been fortunate to have worked with some strong leaders. There were times I couldn’t see the wisdom of their decisions, but am slowly getting their point as I go along in my career.

How can a culture be defied?

  • Infuse a fresh mind into the group. A fresh mind still sees “from the outside”. As a newcomer, a lot of questions come to their minds. Take advantage of what the fresh mind has to offer to the table.

While old-timers are functional, flaws and avenues for improvement may be overlooked as they have grown accustomed to the daily grind.

  • Be on the look-out for continuous improvement. An ISO 9001 principle, improvement of processes and systems should always be on top of an organization’s priorities.

There is no one correct way to do one thing. But there is a more efficient and more effective way of doing it. There will always be something to improve on. There will always be a benefit from it, be it savings in time, money or room for error.

  • Be bold and take a stand. One trait that can kill an organization is indecisiveness. I think to go the wrong way is better than not moving at all. At least, when you realize you are taking the wrong way, you can go back and get to the right way. Stillness doesn’t bring you anywhere.

Many times, managing and leading a group means deciding between the devil and the deep blue sea. Sometimes the choices are not between the good and the bad. But go ahead and take the bitter pill if that’s what’s needed to be done.

  • Educate the team. Life after all is a never-ending education. Brainstorm and see each other’s point of view. Be open to new ideas and ideas presented by others. Let them appreciate the idea. When they do, they will surely breakaway from the culture they are in.

Personally, I welcome the challenges I confront supervising the team. I look at it as a learning experience and a tool to enhance myself for when one day I will be taking leadership positions. I am thrilled to be sharing my knowledge to the team in pursuit of our group’s success and not just mine alone.

For I know that there is a deeper satisfaction in seeing my team succeed and knowing I am a part of it.

While I may not be successful in defying a culture given just 2 weeks to do it, I am taking the chance and hope that the efforts will lead us somewhere. And that we wont slack afterwards.

In being assigned this role, I am probably defying my own personal culture as well. I am embracing this role whole-heartedly for I know after 2 weeks of taking charge, I will have learned a lot in leadership and I will have gotten to know myself a little bit better.

Aint these opportunities grand?


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