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Organizational Leadership Cultures Are Defined in 3 Basic Ways

When leaders execute their organization’s business strategies, they can’t forget their organization’s culture — the self-reinforcing web of beliefs, practices, patterns, and behaviors — which trumps strategy every time. Leadership culture is the way things are done; it’s the way people interact, make decisions, and influence others. Leaders’ own conscious and unconscious beliefs drive decisions and behaviors, and repeated behaviors become leadership practices. Because these practices eventually become the patterns of leadership culture, leaders must understand their responsibility in creating or changing it.

3 Types of Organizational Leadership Cultures We’ve found leadership cultures can be defined in 3 basic ways:

  • Dependent leadership cultures operate with the belief that people in authority are responsible for leadership.

  • Independent leadership cultures operate with the belief that leadership emerges out of individual expertise and heroic action.

  • Interdependent leadership cultures operate with the belief that leadership is a collective activity to the benefit of the organization as a whole.

How do you know what kind of leadership culture you have — and if you have the culture required for the strategy you set? Decoding Your Organization’s Leadership Culture One way to decode your leadership culture is to assess how leaders go about creating shared direction, alignment, commitment (DAC). The process of DAC may vary greatly depending on the predominant leadership culture, as shown below:

  • Direction determines how your organization decides on a way to go. Looking at the chart above, you can see that the approach to setting direction could be rooted in compliance (dependent culture), influence (independent culture), or shared exploration (interdependent culture).

  • Alignment refers to how you coordinate your work so that it fits together. Similar to direction, the cultural approach to creating alignment varies depending on your culture type. In dependent cultures, alignment results from fitting into the expectations of the larger system. In independent cultures, it results from negotiation. And in interdependent cultures, it results from ongoing mutual adjustment.

  • Commitment speaks to mutual responsibility for the group, when people prioritize the success of the collective over their individual success. In dependent culture, that commitment results from loyalty to the source of authority of the community itself. In independent cultures, it results from evaluating the benefits for self while benefiting the larger community. And in interdependent cultures, commitment results from engaging in a developing community.

Are Your Leadership Strategy and Culture In Sync? Once you have clarity around your current leadership culture, it’s time to ask: To what extent is the culture having a positive or negative impact on performance? Is our leadership culture helping us to achieve the business strategies we’ve set? If the business strategy and the leadership culture are at odds, leaders need to get serious about changing themselves — so they can change the culture; create direction, alignment and commitment; and, over time, boost performance and meet strategic goals. Ready to Take the Next Step? We can help ensure your organizational leadership culture helps, not hinders, alignment — and help you decide whether you have the right culture for your strategy. Learn more about our Organizational Culture & Leadership tailored service.


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