Can You Identify Your Organization’s Leadership Culture?

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3 Types of Organizational Culture & How They Connect to Leadership

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 — because, as has often been said, culture trumps strategy every time.

Your organization’s 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

Dependent, Independent, and Interdependent 

We’ve found that organizational 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.

But how do you identify the organizational culture you have? Going even further, how can you determine whether you have the culture you need for the strategy you’ve set? And if you’re about to embark on a large-scale change initiative, are your leaders ready to help transform your organization?

Identifying Your Organizational Culture

One way to decode what type of organizational culture you have is to assess how leaders go about creating direction, alignment, and commitment (DAC), which are the outcomes of leadership, at your organization.

As outlined in our white paper, “Culture Still Wins Over Strategy,” the process of creating DAC may vary greatly from organization to organization, depending upon the predominant type of organizational culture, as shown below.

Direction

Direction determines how your organization decides on a way to goLooking at the chart above, you can see that depending upon the type of organizational culture you have, the approach to setting direction could be primarily rooted in compliance (in dependent cultures), influence (in independent cultures), or shared exploration (in interdependent cultures).

Alignment

Alignment refers to how you coordinate your work so that it fits together. Similar to direction, the approach to creating alignment varies depending upon your  organization’s culture and maturity. In dependent cultures, alignment results from fitting into the expectations of the larger system. In independent cultures, it results from negotiation. And in more mature, interdependent cultures, it results from ongoing mutual adjustment.

Commitment

Commitment speaks to mutual responsibility for the group — when people prioritize the success of the collective over their individual success. In dependent cultures, 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 & Organizational Culture In Sync?

You may be able to see how, as you move through the levels and types of organizational culture, that the most mature organizational cultures are interdependent. (Curious to learn more? Discover the 5 principles for interdependent leadership.)

Once you have identified what type of organizational culture you have now, it’s time to ask:

  • To what extent is our culture having a positive or negative impact on performance?
  • Is our culture helping us to achieve the business strategies we’ve set?

If your business strategy and leadership culture are at odds, your leaders need to get serious about changing themselves — so they can create greater direction, alignment, and commitment; and, over time, boost performance and meet strategic business goals.

For optimal outcomes, you must carefully link your business strategy, leadership strategy, and organizational culture. And make sure that your organization’s leadership development initiatives are aligned and crafted to support these as well.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Partner with our experts to identify what type of organizational culture you have and ensure that our culture and strategy are aligned. Learn more about our approach to Organizational Leadership Culture Change.

June 20, 2022
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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