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  • Rachel V Perry

The "Woke" Whisperer: Leadership’s Role in the Transformation of Cultural Communication

Updated: Jun 13

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The emergence of innovative communications has become an unavoidable consequence of 21st-century industry competition. As a result, today's new professionals are more technologically savvy and "woke" than any previous generation. Over the past decade, the significant shift toward a techno-culture has created a generational separation within organizations. With the continued divide in values among members comes an increase in internal disputes and inter-organizational conflict.


According to Mark Batson Baril of the Forbes Coaching Council and founder of Resologics, internal conflict among stakeholders is a primary reason businesses decline and devalue. Social researchers in organizational culture agree and suggest that such internal conflict often occurs in workplaces with competing cultures and weak leadership. Until industry leaders successfully solve culture-based issues, organizations will remain incongruent. Change is only possible when the leader's vision for the organization includes best practices for safe intercultural communication and an actionable plan for transformation.


Organizational culture experts Kim. S. Cameron and Robert S. Quinn, creators of the competing values framework for the online Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OACI). They recommend, when adhocratic or hierarchal cultures dominate, rules and policies guide leadership behavior. When leaders of institutionalized cultures fail to provide adequate mechanisms for feedback, internal conflicts escalate. Member disputes in multicultural organizations come about when one culture dominates and suppresses the concerns of the non-dominant. Restricting non-dominant members from reporting concerns places their well-being at risk for emotional harm.


Research conducted in work-life quality supports the assumption that when member well-being is threatened, the desire to participate in work declines. This myriad of conditions consequently disrupts member work-life balance. Therefore, while traditional organization members once focused primarily on work as an object consequence of employment, the "woke" culture's performance is directly linked to how they feel about their leader and organization. Emotional safety is therefore becoming the primary indicator of organizational inclusivity. Comparatively, an emotionally unsafe organization is one fixed in human resource-based bureaucracy. Member interests and well-being are inconsequential to leaders of these types of organizations.


Therefore, in a member-centric organization, "wokeness" is measured based on member safety and the ability to raise concern when they feel emotionally unsafe. In such organizational cultures, maintaining the well-being of all members should be a part of the mission. Leadership theorists like Stephen Denning describe the communicative skills needed to create an environment using problem-solving as a precursor to change. By catching members' attention, the effective leader influences a desire to change through emotional safety where stakeholders can thrive.


With the technological revolution as a primary driver of "wokeness," many rising professionals regard the social phenomena as a universal symbol across cultures where self-awareness and actualization provide alternative views to social systems. In Eastern cultures and places like Singapore, the term "woke" has been used by artists like Jeremy Wong Yan Kai to overcome the hegemonies of social injustice through alternative cinematic narratives. In Western culture, before the technological era, "wokeness" has been exampled across religions as a form of enlightenment in individuals like Mahatma Gandhi.


Today- with the emergence of technology-based culture comes new challenges to the organization's status quo. The "woke" whisperer understands how to lead from a servant-based approach to align member needs with abilities to achieve balance in goal achievement. Change is only possible when leaders understand their organization's everyday language. Re-framing the collective narrative requires unbiased dynamic communicative processes for redress.


As the "woke whisperer" the culturally intelligent leader champions the ability to master a common organizational language. Command of the common cultural language creates new opportunities for strategizing transformation. Kouzes and Posner exampled this type of exceptional leadership in individuals who plan a vision forward for their members and provide practical advancement strategies.


Bridging the Cultural Communication Gap


Making sense of an organization's culture through scrutiny of its artifacts illuminates the barriers that impede transformation. While many organizations do not believe they need to change, the global decline in business ethics, the rise of corrupt organizational leaders, and the reduction in members' overall well-being through forced DEI trainings, demonstrate the need for a framework of improved accountability. Creating a path forward is vital for the growth and development of organization members. Such tasks for generational incongruences surrounding "wokeness" require multiple leadership approaches, which include the following transformative methods:


Consultancy

To effect a transformational change of a culture's communication at the executive level begins with safety. A truthful examination and resolution of cultural inequity can only be conducted by professional consultants experienced in the objective and subjective assessment of culture with a scientific methodology for evaluation. As exampled in the above OCAI, proposed theories for transformation must be grounded in sound research that supports member emotional well-being as the foundational framework. Therefore, the cultural transformation consultant should be equipped with subjective cultural knowledge, background, and a proven record of longitudinal results in the creation of the identification, resolution, and prevention of cultural incongruence.


Feedback Systems

Like organizations, technological systems increase in complexity over time. Their most efficient indicator is through feedback loops. Leaders who can look across an organization to see how complexity increases the conditions for conflict also possess the institutional knowledge to reduce it. A feedback loop develops when relational interactions within a system become circular in their behavior. Over a cycle of interactions, cyclical relationships produce a total sum of outcomes. Such results provide objective data for use in better understanding the system and predicting future outcomes. Feedback systems offer accurate measurement of a loop's behavior based on the member experience. Therefore, organizations seeking to improve their member's well-being will implement feedback systems designed to identify and resolve negative feedback loops.


Trauma-Informed Leaders

A trauma-informed leader applies social intelligence to brainstorm ways to create safety for their members. In research carried out by the Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute, they found trauma-informed workplaces promoted well-being and a greater sense of belonging among members. Their study concluded that; resilience and productivity are predominant in trauma-informed organizations. Leaders who take an authentic approach to meet members at their level establish trust, creating room for safe space. How trauma-informed is your organization?


Conclusion

In "woke" cultures and cultures where members live with personal trauma, a safe space to work is the most fundamental factor in their performance. By assessing the organization's approach to trauma using the online organizational assessments, leaders become more informed on challenge areas where barriers to change are more difficult. Using the OCAI to diagnose the organization and strategize transformative steps for cultural change incorporating a servant-based trauma-informed approach, is the first step toward creating a sustainable workplace where all members have the opportunity to thrive and peacefully coexist.