An organisation’s culture is a very important aspect of its life and functioning. Comprising the values, beliefs, shared assumptions and identity of those within an organisation, the culture that is created will shape how the people in the organisation behave, and the types of decisions that are made to move the organisation towards its particular objectives. The roles of founders of an organisation and subsequent leaders are crucial in building the right cultural environment for the organisation to thrive in. With founders in particular, they have the unique opportunity to make the initial imprint that will go a long way to forming the DNA of the organisation for the duration of its existence. The leaders that follow, and the style of leadership that they practice, will also powerfully influence the cultural landscape of the organisation, which is why a great deal of attention needs to be given to bringing in the right leaders, whose vision and approach to leading resonates with the mission of the organisation, and the way that the founders want it to operate.
If these leadership selections are poorly made, the consequences for the organisation can be dire. A fish rots from the head down. So too for organisations and the tearing of their cultural fabric, when a leader is out of alignment with what the organisation was set up to stand for. The demise of the Lehman Brothers bank is pertinent to this discussion. When Bobbie Lehman, the last of the original founding family to run the bank, died, the culture of the Lehman Brothers bank began to change for the worse. This was because the leaders who took over the bank became focused on profit and growth, to the neglect of clients who, once valued as the centre of the business, were now seen as a means to the end of those within the organisation lining their own pockets. This ego driven culture, which intensified under the leadership of executive chairman Richard Fuld, led to the company filing for bankruptcy in 2008. Blinded by greed and hubris to the very end, those leading the bank pursued growth at all costs, despite the warning signs in the world economy being clearly evident.
Not only did Lehman Brothers have a devastating cultural problem, they unknowingly experienced a crisis of consciousness. By this I mean that under the stewardship of these new leaders, the consciousness within the organisation regressed to such an extent that the virtues extolled in their mission statement, were completely disconnected from how those within the bank were conducting themselves. What started as a venture that prioritised having a commitment to clients, building partnerships with them, and serving them above all else (which are reflective of spiritual qualities that my research has verified), degenerated into an unevolved mess where the ego, and its every person for themselves mentality, was allowed to impose itself upon the culture of the company.
Evidently, at the time of Bobbie Lehman’s death, the organisational culture of Lehman brothers was not strong enough to resist the negative influence of these new leaders, but hypothetically, let’s say that the person who took over the bank at that time was a transcendent or conscious leader who valued and prioritised excellent service to clients, improving the workings of the organisation (not just growing it – there is a difference), and giving back to the stakeholders of the bank. The impact that this leader, who embodied an elevated level of consciousness, would have made in the organisation would have been profoundly positive, and if that continued, the chances are that Lehman Brothers would still be in operation today. Rather than tearing at the cultural fabric of Lehman Brothers, the integrity of this leader would have strengthened the integrity of the whole organisation and its culture. The people who worked at the company would have followed the example of this inspired leader, and acted in a way that holistically benefited the bank and its stakeholders, not only themselves.
One of the greatest powers that a leader possesses is influence, and with this power comes a responsibility to not only be conscious, but to grow in consciousness. The impact of ego consciousness on our organisations, leadership and culture is harmful and divisive. We know this because we have experienced it firsthand, in our work and in our personal lives. Our task then is to evolve in consciousness, to evolve in our leadership. With the ever-changing nature of our world, we have that opportunity to enrich our organisations as we develop ourselves. Consciousness is not set in stone, but by living with spiritual consciousness we can fortify the pillars of our society, and the cultures which bring them to life.