Corporate Culture, the Domain of Leadership

Over the last several weeks I’ve discussed the coaching style of leadership which focuses on staff development.  Leaders have a tremendous impact on their culture as they develop their staff.  The next several blog posts highlight the importance of and the role a leader plays in managing culture.

What is Culture

What is culture? Defining culture is subject to interpretation because it is invisible, yet powerful.  It guides our actions; it influences our decisions; and it is necessary for organizational survival.  Edgar Schein’s formal definition of culture is “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

Another way of describing culture is the shared core values and the norms of behavior that allows the organization to produce results.  As you read this, think about your organization’s culture.  What does it value?  How are people expected to behave? When we say something, how does the culture interpret our words?

If you have worked at the same company for many years, it might be difficult to discern your culture from your daily activities.  If you can’t describe your culture, ask someone who has recently been hired, or an external Customer, to describe it to you.  What you hear may be surprising.

What Makes Culture So Powerful

Peter Drucker often said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. What makes culture so powerful?  The roots of culture are like those of a tree.  They are deep, unseen, and influence the organization’s ability to survive.  These roots remain in place for years. They represent the shared history of the organization.  I often ask my coaching clients to describe the person they replaced.  In many cases, though that person has been physically gone for many years, they are still influencing the organization!  Often the culture refuses to let this leader move on.  Especially when that leader helped establish the culture upon which it currently stands.

Culture is the domain of leadership.  Leaders create the culture, influence the culture, and manage the culture to deliver results.  It is one of the most important responsibilities of leadership. Because it is an intangible concept, many leaders do not know how to effectively leverage cultural forces to deliver outstanding results.  Next week we will begin examining how leaders manage culture to deliver results.