The Role of Leadership in Shaping Organizational Culture

There is a lot more to culture than just pizza parties and paid lunches.

Photo by LYCS Architecture on Unsplash

A majority of executives would agree with that statement “There is a lot more to culture than just pizza parties and paid lunches”. The problem is that people tend to overlook it (culture), which can be a huge mistake.

There can be great companies created at inception; however the challenge is to keep developing the elements that helped to create the culture as the business expands and grows. If not, then success will quickly fade and operations will suffer.

For better or for worse, culture and leadership are intertwined, whether it’s a good thing or not. People who manage high-performance companies often get tripped up by culture.

Unmanaged or assigned to the HR department, the issue becomes a secondary one for companies and their employees.

Strategic and tactical plans can be elaborated in great detail. Even if you understand the power and dynamics of culture, your plans will fail if you don’t consider the company culture as priority within these plans.

“If you think about business like a computer, culture is the operating system. Everything else is an “app.” Finance is an app. Creative is an app. Strategy is an app. But culture is the operating system.”
-Gary Vaynerchuk

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

It should not be like this. In reality, culture is dynamic. Understanding how it works is the first and most important step in maximizing its benefits and minimizing its risks.

“Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

-Peter Drucker

Core values are defined and taught by culture.

No exceptions — those in positions of authority must live up to the culture they promote and be its driving force.

Employees firmly held fundamental values which are structured, communicated, and transferred are what define a strong culture. You must set an example by acting in ways consistent with the company’s fundamental beliefs.

Show your staff what they need to do to embrace company values completely.

It is your responsibility to turn an organization’s mission into observable outcomes.

Strategic and visionary thinkers

A leader motivates you to want to do it rather than telling you what to do as a boss does. Set out a plan that everyone can comprehend and a vision that everyone can support to foster an engaged culture.

“A leader is the one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

-John C. Maxwell

I inform our teams of the organization’s goals, the path to get there, and how they may contribute to realizing the vision through living our values.

Values-supporting ethics

People judge you by your actions, not by what you say. Ethics are deeds; values are words.

As soon as you act following your principles, you set an exemplary example and foster an ethical society.


Responsibility, accountability, and authority are three prerequisites.

To foster leadership at all organizational levels, you must provide employees with the freedom to make decisions that directly impact their lives, the authority to take action, and the obligation to accept responsibility for the results.

Micromanaging prevents people from acting as leaders and results in minimal work getting done since a single person makes all the choices.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. “

-Jack Welch

Myths About the Effects of Leadership on Organizational Culture

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Organizational conflict is destructive to culture

Even though conflict is expected to be unhealthy for an ideal organizational culture which one might perceive to be flawless; in reality, it’s quite the opposite.

A conflict or clash of ideas fosters dialogue and communication amongst leaders and the employees promoting collective problem-solving which strengthens organizational culture. Conflicts often nurture the process of brainstorming and critical thinking that makes error handling much more efficient, resulting in an ameliorated culture.

Cultural change is impossible to achieve swiftly

All good things take time but it’s false to assume that change takes years to come about. Most unintended critical changes happen overnight. People are more welcoming to change now than they were before, and it’s completely reasonable that planned changes take longer to occur. The trick, however, is to make the change feel more organic rather than an assertion.

Approaching a change indirectly through minor alterations in management or through a great organizational blow can encourage swift outcomes.

HR is solely responsible for culture

This myth is ironic in terms of the usage of the word ‘culture’. When we talk about culture, we refer to a collective concept driven by interpersonal relationships. The human resource department is indeed responsible for the check and balance of change within an organization but for that change to execute, everyone from the leaders to the management, throughout the entire organization, needs to be involved to ensure productivity and success.

Great leadership is defined by great management skills and the importance of leader idealization is completely overlooked most of the time. For a unified culture to spread, the leader must win over every employee.

Reinforcement does not improve culture

Everyone desires recognition. Appreciative behavior on the leader’s end makes a noteworthy boost in the efficiency and effectiveness of the staff. Whether that reinforcement be perks, incentives, money, or a pat on the back, reinforcement acts as the driving force of motivation and the need to do good or more.

Job satisfaction is key to improving the culture employees need to feel fulfilled and good about their tasks at hand. It’s a feeling of belonging on an emotional level that boosts an organization’s cultural status by increasing success.

One leadership fits all

Change is inevitable, with innovations and ever-evolving trends and whatnot, leadership style and skills need to be constantly updated concerning changing organizational needs and culture in general. Every organization has a different culture that is best suited according to improved outcomes.

Similarly, with diverse organizations, leadership needs to be modified accordingly. It’s not something etched in stone nor is it something that has a right or wrong way of doing it. A headstrong leader nurtures their ability to communicate and practice improving their skills according to the unique culture of the organization.



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Pieter Steyn

Pieter Steyn


Chief Information Officer, Luxaviation Group.️ Leadership/Mindset, ML/AI, data engineering, analytics, stats. All views are my own.