Leadership Culture is the Backbone of Organizational Culture

Many executives understand the impact of culture and place a lot of focus on it by revising values, creating new principles and operating norms. 

However, in this process – one unspoken culture is actually setting a larger tone of mindset, vision and direction: leadership culture.  After almost two decades of leadership development work the first question I ask an executive or company is: What is your leadership culture? How is it similar and different from your organizational culture? 

Leadership Culture is the true backbone & heart of Organizational Culture

Top 3 Reasons to Pay Attention to Leadership Culture:

  1.  Leadership culture is the guide to the true decision making process – this culture shapes what actually happens for the company, its direction and what it means to be a leader. 
  1. Leadership culture will affect the on-going brand of the company. 
  1. Leadership culture defines the lived values of the company which directly impact engagement, retention and performance.

As noted in Figure 1 below, Organizational Culture is the desired culture where leaders are enthusiastically rolling out new values (ideally with employee buy in) to bring them to life. There are leadership programs that reinforce them, there are buttons and an employee reward program creating badges of honor and a clear path of how the values relate to desired competencies/skills and promotion. 

Leadership Culture is what leaders actually say and do in front of others and behind closed doors. Is it a bro based culture? Who really makes the decisions? How do leaders treat one another? While leadership culture is greatly felt at the top of an organization it still bleeds in the waters of organizational culture.

What happens when there is high vs. low congruence between leadership culture and organizational culture?  

As depicted in Figure 2, a low congruence culture becomes more challenging and taxing especially for Directors, Sr. Directors and VPs. There is a lot of time, energy and performance potential spent in the gap, playing dual roles and spinning in a potential toxic wasteland. The lack of congruence impacts engagement, retention and time toward productivity. This culture leads to greater disempowerment of leaders through employees.

With high congruence, in Figure 3, leaders are role models, reducing hidden (shadow) behaviors/agendas that are getting in the way of high performance, and increasing transparency where possible. Instead of playing the role of buffers and protectors leaders are playing the role of coach and active facilitator to inspire and ensure alignment, clear direction and performance. Playing the role of coach/facilitator instead of compliant buffer creates empowerment. Employees and outside stakeholders can feel a high congruence environment in which the leadership culture truly is shaping and defining the organizational culture through clear role modeling.

What drives congruence and development of leadership culture? 

  1. CEO and the Executive Team Role Modeling – if it doesn’t happen here, it won’t happen. 
  1. Intentional Development – creating developmental cultures starting from the top strengthens a leadership culture and ensures leaders are aligning with what they espouse for everyone else. Development cannot be a luxury or the foundation will crumble beneath the Strategy/OKRs.   
  1. Accountability – having checks and balances through the entire talent management life cycle especially: Performance Management, Total Rewards/Compensation, Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Executive Development.

Aman Gohal, Ph.D., PCC 

Copyright 2021 Alchemical Leadership LLC.