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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Barclay

The Human Factor in Leading Cultural Change

Updated: Mar 13

Leaders have a seat of power and authority which come with a position. For some leaders, this feels like an entitlement after all the hard work and sacrifice it took to reach their goal. 80-100 hour work weeks, devoting time to the job instead of their family, doing what’s best for the organization instead of what was best for themselves. What could possibly incentivize a leader in a senior position to change their values and behaviours, especially if those values and behaviours  are what helped them achieve the success they fought so hard to achieve?  It would be like asking a zebra to change their stripes.

Yet, this is exactly what must happen if an organization wants to transform their workplace culture. Why is this?

The simplest definition of workplace culture is “how people work together”. Yes, this is a very simple definition, however, think of all the implications of these 4 words. Think of what is involved and the influence a leader has. The reality is, a leader has the greatest influence on transforming the workplace culture because everyone follows the leader. The way they think , make decisions, and how they treat others, communicates volumes to the rest of the organization.

If a leader is disrespectful, you can bet others under their authority will see this as an acceptable way to treat people. If they bend the rules for their own benefit, corruption and greed will be seen as an acceptable way of doing business to achieve personal goals.

Ultimately, the responsibility of changing a workplace culture rests on the shoulders of its leaders. Essentially, we are asking leaders to change the values and behaviours that have been developed over a lifetime and have gotten them to the top of the pyramid. This is a very challenging task and is rarely successful, without personal transformation in gaining greater self-awareness and a very strong incentive.

So how do you incentivize a leader to change their stripes, to grow and develop into an even more effective leader for the 21st century, leading Millennials and the new Gen Z?


My grandfather, Lieutenant-General Maurice Pope, was head of the Canadian military operations in Washington DC during WWII, and Chief of Staff in Berlin after the war. When he retired from the military, he was Canadian Ambassador to Spain and Belgium. A thesis was submitted on Maurice A. Pope – A Study in Military Leadership to the Division of Graduate Studies of the Royal Military College of Canada by Claude Leblanc.

Lieutenant-General Maurice A. Pope - Photograph sourced from


What stood out for me when reading the thesis, which made my grandfather a successful leader, was called his human skills, or as I like to refer to those traits, the human factor. To get to the position of power and authority he reached in his military career, he developed the tactical operational expertise needed for the job. But what made him excel as a leader was the trust and influence he built in the relationships with the people he worked with, because of his character and competence in fulfilling his duties.

In my book, Conscious Culture – How to Build a High Performing Workplace through Values, Ethics and Leadership,  and the Culture Transformation Course based on the book, the top two recommendations I can give to assist leaders in developing the human factor within themselves, are the TLEX Program (Transformational Leadership for Excellence) and the Group Facilitation Methods course from ICA Associates (Institute of Cultural Affairs). 

With 40 years of business transformation experience in government and the private sector, these 2 programs have provided the greatest internal and external means of enabling leaders to transformation themselves from the inside out. My firm belief to changing behaviours, first, you need to change the values inside yourself because how a person behaves is directly related to the values they hold near. 

One of the most profound “ahha” moments I’ve ever had on this life journey was discovering our personal values are the language of the heart, and when lived, they are our own personal source of life force energy. Values-based leadership is actually heart-centered. It incorporates the human factor in all decisions and considers the influence and impact decisions will have on all stakeholders.   

Employees want to know how much you care

before they care how much you know.

If your next responsibility as a leader is to participate in transforming your workplace culture, then the transformation needs to begin within you.  This is because:

Organizations don’t change, it’s the people in them who do!

As the leader, you need to model the new values and behaviours required to change how you want people to work together. The change starts within you. And this is the power of the TLEX Program – Self Mastery, Social Mastery, and Mastery in Action.

How you engage the whole organization and build commitment, ownership and responsibility for change happens by developing facilitative leadership skills to design and lead difficult conversations.  

Organizations change one conversation at a time.

There is no magic pill that leads to transformation. In today’s complex world, it takes facilitative leadership to bring together many different stakeholders to develop solutions, keeping in mind the human factor while building the trust relationships necessary for successful implementation. 

Joanna Barclay, CPF, CTF, EFL

Ottawa, Canada

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