Thursday, January 24, 2013

Analyzing Organizational Culture - Part 5 - Leadership


Recall we are analyzing organizational culture from the simple perspective of ...

"Culture is the way we do things around here."


While Organizational Culture has many elements, the major influence of "how we do things around here" is Organizational Leadership.

We talked of vision, cohesion, sharing of information, but leadership is the single most influential element of organizational culture.

Leaders ...

  1. Have a private vision of how the world should be, most often based on prior successful experiences.
  2. Work with other leaders to develop an organizational view of a possible future = vision.
  3. Have the authority to make financial investments, investments in human energy and direction.
  4. Have decision making authority that extends across multiple teams, divisions, even regions.
Leaders also ...

  1. Display a persona every day.   Unless a leader completely shuts himself or herself off from the world (and thus are no longer leading) they have a persona which influences the organization.  We know from Social Learning Theory that people will behave according to norms established by powerful others. 
  2. Demonstrate acceptable behavior.  People watch their leaders to see how to interact, how to solve problems, and how to get things done - even how to manage conflict. 
In a recent Journal of Applied Psychology paper, we read that leader conflict management behaviors influence entire organizations (Gelfland, Leslie, Keller, & de Drue.)

One of the challenges I have seen along the way is an inelastic culture that holds on because of the influence of former leaders - people long gone from organizations who still hold sway.   It takes a more powerful leader to overcome the influence of others ... and sometimes it takes a long time, sometimes years, even decades.

I am of the opinion that leadership behaviors are learned in the beginning of one's career, but the longer time a leader manages an outcome, and as they gain a track record, their behaviors become less open to change, short of a crisis or significant loss. 

Leadership, therefore has an immense effect on "how we get things done around here." Open style leadership promotes openness, but may slow accomplishment.  Dominant leadership may get things done, but often at the expense of others.  Laissez-faire leadership looks hands-off but without direction, some team members may struggle. 

While there is room for many leadership approaches in organizations, it is critical that we understand the dramatic impact leadership brings to bear on culture.  For my part: Leadership is the culture of how we get things done. 





Gelfland, M., Leslie, L., Keller, K., & de Drue.  (2012). Conflict cultures in organizations: How leaders shape conflict cultures and their organizational-level consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology.   November 2012, Vol. 97, (6) 1131-1147.








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