Culture IS a Leadership Tool

Most of the academics, consultants, and social scientists that I know (either through their writings or personally) define culture as a soft concept that is hard to manage.

Culture includes (they claim) your beliefs, your values, your assumptions, your norms, your work approaches, and even your emotions - because they say - emotions drive every decision you make: like your desire to maximize profits, your pride in quality, your fear of making mistakes, etc.

They assert that culture is an abstract concept that glues organizations together that is hard to measure, difficult to evaluate, and impossible to manage.

It is no wonder that the majority of executives are convinced that culture doesn't make any difference in the end - and for the same reason - it would never occur to them that culture is an extremely powerful Leadership Tool.

Please let me explain:

My purpose is NOT to give you a definition that the "Royal Academy of the Right Language" is going to agree with.

My purpose is to give you a Practical Tool.

If I define culture as the sum of beliefs, values, assumptions, etc., all I will end up with is a descriptive, all-inclusive, and beautiful definition that might get me a nice award at the "International Association of Cultural Anthropologists," but it will be of no use to you in terms of organizational change management.

If you want an effective leadership tool to help you deliver results, I suggest you visualize culture as "Patterns of Behavior." It's nothing more, nothing less - period. It is this simple.

Why? Because of four reasons:

First: because patterns of behavior make up the fabric of your organization's performance

For example, take the core Values of your company. What are they for? They guide the behavior of your employees. You want your employees to behave according to your organization's Values. You want to see patterns of behavior that are 100 per cent aligned with and congruent with such Values.

This very same argument applies to your organization's strategic Vision. And I could go on and on.

Second: because behaviors are objective, observable, and measurable.

If you focus on behavior you maintain objectivity in performance management. Why? Because performance is the sum of behaviors plus results: you manage the performance of your people by measuring and evaluating both behaviors AND results (both - performance and results - are objective, observable, and measurable).

But if you focus on your employees' psyche, assumptions, emotions, attitudes, values, beliefs, etc., your fall inside the kingdom of subjectivity - and therefore - you won't be able to manage performance effectively. You cannot manage performance by focusing on subjectivity. You can only manage performance by being objective.

You get paid to manage and improve behavior in order to deliver results - you do not get paid to read people's minds. You are a manger - you are not a psychologist.

Third: because culture has three extremely useful functions.

Culture - any culture - accomplishes three things. It aligns, it controls, and it motivates large groups of people.

Your organization's culture (whatever it might be and regardless of your organization's size) aligns, controls, and motivates the people of your organization. Three achievements that are exceptionally difficult to attain by any other means (talk about patterns of behavior).

And fourth: because the most important ingredient in shaping the culture of an organization - any organization - is the behavior of its leaders.

If you are a leader at any level in your organization, your behavior is the main ingredient in shaping the culture - the patterns of behavior - of the organization you lead.


Contrary to what most consultants and executives believe, culture is NOT a soft and abstract concept that is floating on the air in the ethereal world.

On the contrary, culture smacks you in the face with its concreteness.

When you visualize culture as "Patterns of Behavior," then and only then can you use it as an effective leadership tool to optimize your organization's performance.

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See you next month!
Jose Luis Romero - Publisher
July 5, 2011. Copyright: All rights reserved
I publish "Leader Newsletter" on the first Tuesday of every month

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