Does Leadership culture matter?
If you are seen to play a strong leadership role in your organization, you are likely to have a strong impact on the culture of the organization. The beliefs, values and customs you demonstrate will influence what happens and what decisions are made by others in the organization. If you believe in task-focused rational leadership, staff will tend to perpetuate this belief and practice. If you value and demonstrate an attitude of zero waste in all aspects of your behaviour, avoiding waste of time, product or materials, this will become an established custom in the organization. So, as difficult as it is to SEE, leadership culture is working right now, below the surface, to influence decisions and behaviour in your own organization.
A way to ‘measure’ it
The inserted diagram offers four ways of looking at leadership culture. It contrasts a Rational with a Subjective focus, and a People with a Task focus. If we combine these opposites we end up with four kinds of leadership: Joint Problem Solving (People+Rational), Efficient (Task+Rational), People (People+Subjective) and Power (Task+Subjective). The following form and rating scale offers a systematic approach for assessing this mix of leadership cultures in your organization. It offers a comparison of what you believe is the desired leadership culture compared with the leadership culture being demonstrated in the organization.
It invites you to answer two questions using a rating scale of Strong Yes (5); Weak Yes (4); in-between (3); Weak No (2); Strong No (1) for each of the twenty-five items in this questionnaire.
- How important are the following factors as you believe they should be (Column A)?
- What is it like in your own organization as you experience it at present (Column B)?
|IN THIS ORGANIZATION…||Column A
|1. People’s abilities and commitment are taken into account .|
|2. Need for clarity of methods and structures..|
|3. Exercising power and influence to get results ….|
|4. People’s need to be happy and content in their jobs …|
|5. Respect for position and level of authority ….|
|6. Getting it right is a top priority..|
|7. Personal contact comes before details of how to do the job .|
|8. Protecting oneself from getting blamed for mistakes….|
|9. Policy and procedures based on sound argument ..|
|10. Focus on the problem rather than mistakes and people’s shortcomings.|
|11. Conflict is managed to get answers which will keep the peace…|
|12. It’s important to know and relate well to people with influence….|
|13. Doing a job should be fun…|
|14. Focus on consistently correct practices..|
|15. Being visible and known is essential for advancing one’s own position….|
|16. Maintaining up-down flow of open communication.|
|17. Need to accommodate and go easy on human errors…|
|18. Observed efficiency in using time and resources..|
|19. People should enjoy working together…|
|20. Surfacing differences and conflicts to find better answers together.|
Use the following key to get some insight into what the gaps are between what you would like the organization culture to be and the way it is at present: those with (.) after each item represent a JPS leadership culture; those with (..) represent an Efficient leadership culture; items with (…) represent a People leadership culture; items with (….) represent a Power leadership culture. Using the 1-5 rating scale, you will have a score for each of these four leadership cultures comparing what you desire with what it is.
To illustrate this, I have entered the assessment of the top management team of a particular educational institution. It shows the leadership culture with the old top team before restructuring, compared with the new top team after restructuring. Col. A represents the desired leadership culture using the 5-point rating scale, and Col. B represents the actual leadership culture using the same 5-point rating scale on this questionnaire. B-A represents the positive (+) or negative (-) deviation from the desired culture.
Four proposed leadership cultures which are described in more detail below.
Old top team
New top team
|Joint Problem Solving Leadership driving decisions||24||16||-8||24||23||-1|
|Efficient Leadership driving decisions||22||15||-7||22||20||-2|
|People Leadership driving decisions||25||15||-10||27||20||-7|
|Power Leadership driving decisions||12||17||+5||12||14||+2|
This assessment is based on observations made before and after restructuring. Only 44% of the same people remained the same in the new management team. In both the old and new teams, the ‘strong personality’ of the different person heading up each of these teams had a strong influence on the group dynamics within these management teams, which flowed over into the way they went about their own leadership work in the organization. As shown in these assessments, the negative gap between what was desired and what was demonstrated changed from -20 to -8 from the old to the new team, showing a 60% overall positive shift in the leadership culture. This enabled changes and improvements in the organization to be made much more effectively and easily than in the past.
What do these four cultures mean in practice?
JPS leadership culture refers to a Joint Problem Solving approach to situations where we find answers to difficult situations in collaboration with others. While not all situations require the collaboration and involvement of others, the more we move away from this approach the more we are likely to generate dependence or resistance in those we lead. JPS leadership does not prescribe a collaborative approach to all situations (e.g. we don’t have a group discussion when the building is burning down). But equally, when there are situations with no ready-made answers and where we depend on others to get results, failing to involve others would be foolish.
Efficient leadership culture refers to a focus on rationality and structures to support and sustain rational decisions and plans to ensure efficiency of the task. An extreme image of rational leadership would be a perfect computer which processes all the relevant data and makes perfect rational decisions without the need to consider feelings, attitudes, fears, hopes and expectations. Yet feelings, attitudes, fears, hopes and expectations can turn the most rational decision into a failure because of lack of commitment or comprehension of those taking action. We don’t live in a mechanical computerized world but a human one.
People leadership culture is focusing on people, their needs and aspirations. There are times when there is distress and pain in an organization which require this kind of leadership. But if the values, customs and beliefs of the leaders focus exclusively on people and their needs regardless of the situation, it is likely that there will be insufficient pressure to plug the holes to stop the ship from sinking so that the crew and passengers don’t drown and the ship is able to complete its voyage.
Power leadership culture is focusing on position, personal or political power, where ‘might is right’; sometimes with insufficient regard for the facts or people considerations. Those in power, consciously or subconsciously, are authoritarian and serve their own goals, sometimes in the false belief that they are right because they are the leaders. Again, there are times of crisis and conflict when this kind of leadership may be essential.
It is helpful to complete this questionnaire with the top management team and reach consensus where the biggest gaps are and how you may need to refocus your values, beliefs and customs in your leadership of the organization. There is no perfect leadership culture. It depends on the demands of the situation and your own ability and motivation to bring about changes. But this exercise can give you positive leads as to where to improve leadership in line with your own desired leadership culture for your organization.