Thankfully, the importance of culture has gained a well-deserved place on the organizational stage. Its influence on the various aspects within a company is far-reaching and is a key element for success. Culture is also paramount in developing a competitive advantage for any organization. Companies already have a bead on the key component to developing culture, and that’s leadership. Where many fall short, is in understanding the nature of the relationship between leadership and culture.

The most prevalent elements of leadership which drive culture – all by example, of course – include: decisions, language, values alignment, attitude, and response to conflict & disappointment. The biggest challenge is to view the influence of leadership on culture only through the lens of leadership development. There are things like character, motivations, communication styles and all that which are extremely valuable to address when discussing leadership development. They are, however, uninformative regarding leadership’s relationship with culture.

revolutionThe relationship between leadership in culture is one of context. As much as leadership creates culture through its decisions, language, values alignment, etc., the end result of these things provide a context in which things are expected to happen (as well as a manner in which they are meant to happen). We have such a desire to package things and place them in neatly formed piles so we can feel some sense of order. Often times we seek to placate our anxiety more than we desire to understand what is and/or what works.

Often times we seek to placate our anxiety more than we desire to understand what is and/or what works.

So why bother with the revolution buzzword? The answer, is because it’s necessary. Let me explain. Stepping away from the marketing desensitization of what this word really means, a contextual revolution is the most accurate way to describe this.

Revolution:An overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established system.

This definition is usually reserved for political events, but it suits the need to change how we understand and approach this relationship between leadership and culture. Leadership has its principles and must be developed according to those principles. Culture has its drivers and must be developed according to those drivers. In many organizations, the relationship between the two is based on an established system which forces the relationship to sit more on one side or the other, which is ineffective and incorrect.

It is time to overthrow this understanding and thoroughly replace it with the knowledge that the relationship between leadership and culture isn’t mostly a leadership issue, nor mostly a cultural issue – it is a contextual issue. This will give us better insight into the most effective ways we can utilize leadership principles in order to properly influence cultural drivers. It becomes much more effective because we understand the nature of the relationship. We understand what is and what works as opposed to chasing down things that just make us feel less anxious.

Culture is such a key player in the success of organizations and leaders recognize this. Often times there is a desperation to make a difference because it is obvious that it is needed. Avoiding a bad culture is a bad idea. Understanding how to create a good culture is more effective. Walking away from something will take you anywhere. Walking toward something has much more purpose.

Begin building your contextual revolution. What context does your culture need to thrive and be in alignment with your values? How can your leadership create that context? Fight for this middle ground (context) to be a part of your decision making process. Your culture will thank you for it.