Why Next-Gen Leaders Need to be Culturepreneurs

By Marty Parker

Culture is the collective behavior of an organization. It’s what makes an organization unique – your competitive advantage. It’s also a key lever to help leaders and organizations drive innovation, solve problems, improve business performance, and improve employee retention.

Entrepreneurs create value by uncovering opportunities. They are problem solvers and innovators. They drive economic growth and bring societal value.  There are many professional managers or family leaders who would say they are entrepreneurs and that’s because they embody these traits.

Culturepreneurs are leaders who combine culture and entrepreneurship into one new ethos. It’s a new way to lead that puts people first and culture – not outcomes – at the centre of business strategy. Culturepreneurs understand and use culture to drive competitive advantage and exceptional growth not just in the business but in their people and eventually society. That’s where this is going: to make a better world.

Culturepreneurs understand that people align with a purpose – more so if they see you live it. They don’t expect you to have it all figured out, they just want to know you care and that you listen.

Connection, emotion, and purpose are the elements that fuel culture. When people feel connected it affects their behavior. That’s where culturepreneurs come in.

A new type of leader

In January 2014, Deloitte published Big demands and high expectations: The Deloitte Millennial (Generation Y) Survey. Its key findings were prescient and worth revisiting.

Across the globe, 70 percent of tomorrow’s future leaders might ‘reject’ what business as traditionally organizational has to offer, preferring to work independently by digital means in the long term. This and other findings … point to significant challenges facing business leaders if they are to meet the expectations of the Millennial generation. Millennials, who are already emerging as leaders in technology and other industries and will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society. The study also reveals that Millennials believe businesses are not currently doing as much as they could to develop their leadership skills and that they need to nurture their future leaders, especially as they cannot count on them biding their time until senior positions arise.

Big demands and high expectations: The Deloitte Millennial (Generation Y) Survey (2014)

Respondents didn’t stop there. The majority also believed business could do much more to address resource scarcity, climate change and income equality.

Eight years later, a global pandemic, the shift to anywhere work and tight labor market have intensified these expectations. The difference: employees are speaking with their feet as evidenced by the great resignation.

Organizations that want to attract and retain talent have to transition to a new type of leader, one who understands the needs of today’s employees and can adapt their leadership style to realize and leverage their potential. It’s a tall order and absolutely necessary. I coined the term culturepreneur to describe this next gen leader and the attributes they must embody to thrive in a world where unprecedented change is always around the corner and people need to be supported in new ways.

The behaviors and attributes of culturepreneurs

At its core, a culturepreneurial leadership style is bespoke leadership. It requires leaders to adapt their leadership style to their people. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) workforce will settle for no less. Millennials and Gen Y employees want to know the purpose of the organizations they work for, the social impact they’re having, and their own role in driving that impact. Leaders have to figure out the individual needs of their team members, align those needs to the organizational purpose, create systems and an environment that allow people to develop professionally and personally, and opportunities for people to contribute in a way they find meaningful. It’s not an easy task and it’s one reason that many people may opt out of leadership altogether. It’s also one reason next-gen leaders need to be culturepreneurs.

Here are the five key elements that set culturepreneurs apart:

  1. Psychological safety. People want to feel comfortable being who they are and contributing without fear of retribution for bad ideas, mistakes or failures. Fundamentally, psychological safety is about trust. The best way to build trust as a leader is to be vulnerable; to let people in. It means sharing your fears, how you might be feeling on a given day, the things that bring you joy or that keep you up at night and finding out how your people are doing. Go around the room during a meeting and ask for a one word answer to the question: How are you feeling at this moment?  This quick insight will help you in your personal interactions and is a powerful way to show you care. Psychological safety is the foundation to becoming a successful culturepreneur.
  1. Accountability. More than a system to make sure everything gets done, accountability is about how things get done. It’s about team members feeling meaning, ownership and their own accountability for results. None of this is possible by telling people what to do; it can only happen when the team is supported and has a say in how things happen.
  1. Meaning. Meaning, purpose, and emotion are the fuel that drive culture. It’s up to leaders to figure that out and align an individual’s interests and passions to organizational objectives, right down to a micro level. It requires taking a close look at each team member’s personal sense of purpose and interests, how they relate to a specific project, and the value they can bring. Cutlurepreneurs go one step further by linking individual meaning to the shared purpose within the team.
  1. Impact:  People want to be acknowledged for where they are, their progress and the contribution they are making, not just the outcomes they achieve. Millennials and Gen Z have grown up being recognized for their efforts; for trying. It’s a big change from past generations, but it’s a good one. It’s up to leaders to recognize their people in a way that is personalized and meaningful.
  1. Continuous learning. There is so much complexity in the world and things are moving fast. As leaders, we have to continuously add skills to our toolkit that will allow us to have impact on the business, our own careers and our teams. This is exactly why the master class format and YouTube have emerged as powerful tools for learning and education. The ability to access education is everywhere – and the need to do so is ongoing.  Leaders today have to be player coaches focused on developing themselves and their team members to their highest potential.

Recruit and retain culturepreneurial leaders

When it comes to next-gen leadership, it’s important that organizations identify (and retain) the culturepreneurial leadership talent that already exists on their team. And where there are gaps, recruiting culturepreneurs to step into leadership roles is key. Waterstone Human Capital can help. Find out more about our executive search and culture management services or schedule a meeting with our team.