Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

by / Tuesday, 24 December 2013 / Published in Shaping Culture

What type of culture is necessary for leaders to create in order to foster organizational success?

Leadership culture is the self-reinforcing web of individual and collective beliefs, practices, behaviors, and patterns in an organization. It is the way in which leaders interact, make decisions, and influence others in their efforts to create direction, alignment, and commitment. The leadership culture has a direct impact on your organization’s ability to achieve the business strategies you have set.

Leadership cultures can be understood in terms of three essential types (McGuire and Rhodes, 2009):

  • Dependent leadership cultures operate with the belief that people in authority are responsible for leadership.
  • Independent leadership cultures operate with the belief that leadership emerges out of individual expertise and heroic action.
  • Interdependent leadership cultures operate with the belief that leadership is a collective activity to the benefit of the organization as a whole.

Leaders’ own conscious and unconscious beliefs drive decisions and behaviors, and repeated behaviors become leadership practices. Eventually these practices become the patterns of leadership culture. While one leadership culture may dominate, other cultures may be operating in different divisions, functions, or groups within the organization.

Changing culture is touch stuff.  Time and time again I work with organizations that have brought in an external consultant to “define” the new organizational culture needed to execute the new business strategy.  They are charged with determining what the beliefs, values, behaviors, conducts etc, of the employees will be.  They tell us that if leaders can just get people to be like this the organizational will certainly execute on its strategy and prosper.

But culture is a deeply ingrained, multi-level construct.  Like the skin of an onion, the more we peel back the layers of culture, the more intense and significant it becomes. Cultural layers go from the superficial to the deeply profound.  It touches on what individuals in the organization like and don’t like; what they value and don’t value; their concepts of what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is bad.  The pre-packaged approach to culture creation tends to be a guaranteed recipe for strategy failure and poor performance.  Culture does indeed “eat strategy for breakfast” when it is delivered by outsiders rather than carefully cooked by those that will serve it up as a wholesome meal for the organizational family members.

Engaging people throughout the organization to determine the desired degree of dependence, in-dependence and/or inter-dependence  and crafting leadership strategies to achieve this culture is a powerful process.  As leaders engage people up, down and around the organization they begin to find a match between the culture that supports desired organizational performance and a culture that is meaningful to the individuals that must collectively live and work together on a daily basis if .

Adapted from - White PaperBridging the Performance / Strategy Gap: How leadership strategy drives business results

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