Your Example: Leading Culture

Much of what we have discussed recently has highlighted the fact that a leader is always on stage and always being watched.  Today we take that a step further as we look at a leader’s role in guidance of organizational culture.

A leader is responsible for culture as much as they are for organizational vision, strategy and performance.  As a leader you will get what you ask for in your organization’s culture.  Your words, behaviors, actions, and more, set the tone that others follow. 

All aspects of a business can be adjusted to support or destroy a culture: policies; renumeration & incentives; who is hired; who is fired; rewards & accolades; where the money is spent; to name just a few.  And of course, it is not just the leader that must be consistent, it is everyone in organization, because together you define the culture.  The difference for the leader is that you are responsible for it all, because it is happening on your watch.

Ensuring this level of alignment can seem to be a daunting task.  However, research into organizational culture is bringing clarity to the sometimes murky world of culture.  In the Harvard Business Review Article “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture” (Groysberg Lee, Price, Cheng) (, the authors present 8 types of company culture that are defined through the lens of the two dimensions of People Interactions (from highly independent to highly interdependent), and Response to Change (from stability to flexibility). 

The chart shows the 8 cultural styles as they relate to the People and Response to Change dimensions.  The authors further hypothesise that it is easier for an organization to maintain alignment to cultural styles that are adjacent to each other (safety and order) on the chart versus styles located across from one another (safety and learning) on the chart. Readers are encouraged to read the full article for pros and cons of each cultural style and insights into combined styles.

Further cultural understanding comes from an MITSloan Management Review article “Why Every Executive Should Be Focusing on Culture Change Now” (Hollister, Tecosky, Watkins, Wolpert) (  In this article, the authors outline the Seven Elements of an Adaptive Culture.  Essentially highlighting the key requirements for a culture that supports transformation and therefore is well suited to today’s rapidly changing environment.  The seven elements are:

  1. Customer Centricity
  2. Ecosystem Focus
  3. Analytical Orientation
  4. Collaborative Reflex
  5. Bias to Action
  6. Learning Mindset
  7. Leader as Enabler

While the SloanIT article provides guidance for an adaptive culture which, is essentially a requirement in today’s environment, when combined with the broader Harvard model, a good depth of understanding is available for a leader to design an adaptive culture that also supports the organization’s mission, vision and values.  With the information and tools available today, it is possible to be as intentional about your culture as every other aspect of your business.

Photo Credit: Pexels – Chris F