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The Effectiveness-Lab

Organizational culture – impact on a leader’s influence

Last week, we discussed how culture in the organisation can become an enabler or disabler for leaders. We elaborated how leaders need appropriate organisational culture and context to succeed. Apparently, a leader’s DNA has to fit a particular organisational culture for them to succeed

Organisational-Vitals (OV) and Bionic-Balance (BB)

This week, we explore the impact of corporate culture on a leader’s ability to manipulate and shape the four organisational vitals [Leadership, Strategy, Design, and People]. It ought to be remembered that to attain a state of organisational bionic-balance, leaders need to manipulate all the four organisational vitals almost in equal measure

The two questions that arise are:

  1. Do all the four organisational cultures (Charles Handy’s typology) support sufficient manipulation of the four organisational-vitals by a leader?
  2. If any of the four organisational culture types does not allow sufficient organizational-vital manipulation and influence by the leader, what can leaders do to mitigate their lack of influence on the vitals?

Well, different organisational cultures support in various measures, the manipulation of Organizational Vitals by a leader. Certain cultures will allow a leader to control all four vitals, while others may only allow so much.

Below is a matrix that maps organisational culture to organisational vital manipulation and influence by a leader:

  • Power culture – Under the power culture, leaders have enough wiggle room within the organisation’s ecosystem to influence leadership aspects. As we elaborate below, the leadership organisational vital is manipulatable under all four corporate cultures – this is because of its inherent traits. Leadership is an innate factor, controlled by the individual leader biomarkers; it is, therefore, difficult for any organisational culture to take that away from the individual. As discussed last week, the politically savvy thrive in a power culture organisation, and as expected, they will always remain in control of their leadership-vital – this is their most potent weapon.  They are political savvy

Yet, leaders under the so-called power culture orientation do not control strategy. This is determined by the centre, and if we follow Charles Handy’s analogy, control is very close to or by the spider.  Similarly, the design aspects of the organisation are determined in concentric circles that are very close to the centre. Also under the power culture system, it’s results first and people second – so leaders that bring a people-first agenda may find themselves on the back foot. There may not be enough time to play the people-development/calibration game like in the task culture

Leaders that chose to work in a power culture organisation eco-system need to have mastered the art of influencing, political gimmickry and survival

  • Role culture – The role culture is not very different from the power culture above when it comes to organisational vital manipulation by leaders. While the drivers of each culture are different, i.e. role culture is driven by rules and standardisation while power culture is motivated by a powerful centre, leaders in both eco-systems do not have lots of wiggle-room to manipulate strategy, design, and people aspects. In a role culture – all these factors are clearly defined and governed by standard operating procedures. The best example of such culture is the civil service or agencies of government like USAID and DFID.

Strategy in the civil service is defined by the government in power; the architecture to deliver such strategy is also designed by the government, and the people management culture is defined in PhD like HR manuals that have to be followed to the letter.

Leaders in such a culture may find it hard to imbue their own people culture at an institution that has people management defined in civil service doctrine. In many instances, leaders give up even without trying.

  • Task culture – The task culture is what many leaders aspire to have in their organisations. The leader can manipulate all the four organisational vitals almost in equal measure. Leaders working in a task culture control strategy, the architecture of the projects they are working on at a point in time, and the people aspects.
  • Person culture – The person culture, much as it is loathed by those in leadership and that do not ascribe to it, allows its followers manipulation of all the four vitals. The latter is expected especially since person culture proponents are incredibly powerful individuals within their ecosystems and by their positional power, have control over all organisational vitals

Takeaways from the first question and answer – all the four organisational cultures allow near seamless manipulation of the leadership vital. Two of the most globally used cultures – Power and Role – do not seamlessly allow manipulation of three key vitals i.e. strategy, design, and people. With the configuration of the modern company changing, pressured by competition, short product/service cycles, the task culture may soon become the star of organisational cultures.

How can a leader mitigate the lack of influence on organisational vitals like strategy, design, or people?

Picture the life of a civil servant anywhere in the world that has to follow the diktats of the government in power. Even more frustrating, these diktats change each time the government changes

While every leader would like to shape the strategy they preside over during their time at the organization; design the architecture that delivers the organizational strategy, and like good architectural practice, allow house occupants the opportunity to input in the design; plus shape the people culture that gets the best out of people – the truth is, every organization has its culture, and such culture has to be respected and supported.

Mitigating the lack of wiggle-room to manipulate and influence organisational vitals:

First things first – leaders have to understand and accept the vision and mission of the organisation; when leaders get to this state of ‘buy-in’, they are likely to align with the strategy, design, and people aspects at the company, even if they didn’t have a hand in crafting them. Respectful and patient influencing of the status-quo by the leader follows – taking care to support the organisation’s vision and mission and showing brand loyalty.  Such brand loyalty brings about trust from those in power, and trust gradually gives way to empowerment and the accompanying influence.

Leaders that survive in power and role culture organisations are loyal to their brands and extremely political savvy. Those that find this difficult are better advised to work for organisations with either the Task or Person culture – try Google, Facebook or get into Consulting/Private-employment

The choice is yours.


5 responses to “Organizational culture – impact on a leader’s influence”

  1. The article was very good. Thank you for your efforts. can I published it in my blog?


    1. Hi there – yes, feel free to publish with proper referencing back to the Effectiveness lab. I hope it can help your readers change the paradigm in HR. Thanks for reading the article


  2. […] leadership biomarkers. And finally, that corporate culture determines whether a leader can influence all four OV’s [leadership, strategy, design (architecture), and people] or […]


  3. Striking a balance in these is what all leaders ought to do but in the real world a few do this
    Thanks for the post Appolo


    1. Thanks for taking time to read the blog – yes, leadership is a balancing act


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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