Leading the Leaders

Managing The Corporate Culture Is Essentially Managing Communication.

Not all managers manage hourly employees. Some managers manage other managers. The CEO manages vice presidents who manage directors and so on.

Managers who manage managers have an extra responsibility. Like all managers they need to insure that their subordinates are showing up for work, making a quality effort, and are consistent and reliable. Yet they have a greater responsibility, and that is to ensure that their subordinate managers are also practicing good leadership themselves.

Management is communication. Usually someone who works his or her way up the ladder to become CEO understands that it is important to set goals, delegate responsibility, provide accurate positive and negative feedback to subordinates, and then step back and let them do their jobs.

This isn’t a secret formula for success; this is basically what all good managers do. They then monitor the actions of their workers and evaluate results. If someone is failing, the manger provides more guidance until the employee is able to take on more responsibility.

We all want to work in environments like this where managers are driving production indirectly by providing an atmosphere where qualified, motivated employees produce quality products and services.

Getting It

The problem is that not everyone gets it. Those working for an enlightened manager may appreciate the productive atmosphere of empowerment created by the senior manager, but don’t know how or don’t want to create that same atmosphere for their subordinates. The open communication environment at the senior level only creates an opportunity for uninhibited authoritarian management at the next level down.

Setting an example isn’t enough. Senior management needs to monitor how middle managers are managing. CEOs in particular are responsible for the corporate culture. They need to be able to articulate their management styles and their vision for the organization. And, they have to hire senior managers who have the communication skills to pass this paradigm down to middle managers who pass it down to front line managers.

Managing the corporate culture is essentially managing communication. Senior leadership needs to set communication goals for middle management, such as creating open and participative work relationships through monthly workgroup meetings and twice yearly employee evaluation meetings.

Of course, meetings can be open or they can be closed. Senior management needs to monitor communication throughout the organization to make sure that employees get the information they need and that they don’t feel threatened when they give feedback to supervisors.

If someone has created a threatening, authoritarian work environment, employees will fear punishment if they speak up, so the only way to monitor this is to provide mechanisms for anonymous feedback.


Many companies take care of this with an annual employee survey that asks questions about open and closed communication and breaks the results down into work groups. Usually authoritarian managers will hire other authoritarian managers, and negative leadership results on an employee survey will run like a streak of gangrene from the authoritarian leader in upper management down to the smallest workgroup in that person’s division.

An even more thorough diagnostic tool is a communication audit which adds anonymous personal interviews and focus groups to the survey and pinpoints people, processes, and information that are detrimental and finally makes recommendations to fix the problems.

If you aren’t ready for more formal monitoring processes, a simple way to test the environment below you on the organization chart is to have lunch with or stop by the office or work station of those who are two and three levels below you. Get to know them, and find out if they feel like they are recognized for their accomplishments and if they have input on decisions.

Too often someone at the top of an organization provides an empowering work environment to subordinates who take advantage of that freedom to create a closed, top-down, authoritarian environment for those under them. The only way to know if you have this problem is to monitor your subordinates’ subordinates.

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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