How does organisational culture intersect with leadership?

4 Minutes
The synergy between organisational culture and leadership has emerged as a crucial determinant of an organisation's success.

Culture shapes the very fabric of your organisation, influencing employee behaviour, engagement, and innovation. Leadership, on the other hand, stands as the guiding force steering the ship towards its goals. But how do these two pillars of business coalesce, and how can they be harnessed to drive your organisation's growth and prosperity?

In this article we will dissect how leaders both shape and are shaped by culture, drawing insights from real-world examples and scientific research. Furthermore, we will address the challenges that often accompany this intersection and provide actionable solutions. By the end of this journey, you will have a better understanding of how effective leadership can become the catalyst for crafting a thriving organisational culture, ready to propel your company to new heights.

Leadership's Influence on Culture

Leadership is not a one-way street in the realm of organisational culture; it both shapes and is shaped by the culture it operates within. This dynamic relationship between leadership and culture highlights the reciprocity and complexity of their interactions.

Shared Values and Behaviours: Effective leaders actively participate in shaping organisational culture by fostering shared values and behaviours. By consistently demonstrating these values in their actions and decisions, leaders set the cultural tone. In turn, culture reinforces these values through collective adherence (Schein, 2010).

Alignment with Cultural Norms: Leaders who align their behaviours with the prevailing cultural norms find it easier to influence and lead their teams effectively. Such alignment engenders trust and credibility, making it more likely for employees to follow their lead (Cameron & Quinn, 2006).

Culture as a Source of Guidance: Organisational culture serves as a guide for leaders as well. Leaders often turn to cultural norms and values to inform their decisions. In cultures that prioritise innovation, leaders may encourage experimentation and risk-taking, whereas in more conservative cultures, they might emphasise stability and tradition (Schein, 2010).

Adaptive Leadership: In dynamic environments, leaders must adapt to evolving cultural dynamics. Successful leaders are agile and responsive, capable of guiding their organisations through cultural shifts. This adaptability ensures that leadership remains in sync with the evolving cultural landscape (Brown, 2015).

Leadership Styles and Their Impact

Leadership styles have a profound impact on organisational culture. Different styles can yield distinct cultural outcomes:

Transformational Leadership: Transformational leaders inspire and motivate employees to transcend their self-interests for the collective good of the organisation. This leadership style is often associated with fostering a culture of innovation, creativity, and collaboration (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Transactional Leadership: Transactional leaders focus on the exchange of rewards and punishments to motivate employees. While effective in specific contexts, this style may not necessarily nurture a culture of empowerment or innovation (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Servant Leadership: Servant leaders prioritise the well-being of their team members. This approach can foster a culture of trust, empathy, and support (Greenleaf, 2002).

Adaptive Leadership: In rapidly changing environments, adaptive leaders excel. They can navigate through cultural transitions while maintaining employee engagement and cohesion (Brown, 2015).

To illustrate the real-world impact of leadership styles on organisational culture, consider the case of Apple Inc. Under the leadership of Steve Jobs, known for his visionary and transformational style, Apple cultivated a culture of innovation, risk-taking, and customer-centricity. This cultural ethos continues to influence Apple's operations and success even after his tenure (Isaacson, 2011).

Navigating the intricacies of leadership and organisational culture is not without its challenges. One common challenge is the misalignment between leadership styles and existing cultural norms. Such misalignment can lead to resistance, conflicts, or the erosion of cultural values. To address this, leaders must remain adaptable and open to feedback (Cameron & Quinn, 2006).

Challenges and Solutions in Leadership's Relationship with Organisational Culture


Resistance to Change: One of the primary challenges in leadership's relationship with organisational culture is resistance to change. When leaders attempt to introduce new cultural elements or shift the existing culture, employees may resist the changes, viewing them as disruptions to their established routines (O'Reilly & Caldwell, 1985).

Cultural Inertia: Organisational culture often exhibits inertia, resisting changes that don't align with existing norms. This inertia can present a substantial hurdle for leaders aiming to cultivate a different cultural direction (Hannan & Freeman, 1984).

Leadership Turnover: Frequent leadership changes can disrupt the consistency required for shaping and maintaining a particular culture. The departure of key leaders may lead to a cultural vacuum or, in some cases, a cultural shift as new leaders bring their values and beliefs into the organisation (Cameron & Quinn, 2006).

Cultural Misalignment: Misalignment between leadership and organisational culture can create tension and inefficiencies. For example, if a leadership style emphasises micromanagement, but the culture values autonomy, it can result in conflict and hinder productivity (Schein, 2010).


Clear Communication: Effective communication is essential when introducing cultural changes. Leaders should clearly articulate the reasons for the change, the expected benefits, and how it aligns with the organisation's mission and values. Transparency can mitigate resistance (O'Reilly & Caldwell, 1985).

Employee Involvement: Involving employees in the change process can be instrumental. Leaders can seek input, listen to concerns, and co-create aspects of the culture with employees. This engagement fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to the new cultural direction (Cameron & Quinn, 2006).

Gradual Cultural Shift: To overcome cultural inertia, leaders can implement gradual changes rather than abrupt shifts. Small, incremental adjustments are often better tolerated and can accumulate over time to create meaningful cultural transformation (Hannan & Freeman, 1984).

Leadership Development: Investing in leadership development programs can help leaders align with the desired culture. These programs provide leaders with the skills and knowledge needed to lead in a way that supports and reinforces the culture (Schein, 2010).

Success Stories: Highlighting success stories of individuals or teams that have embraced the new culture can inspire others. Recognising and celebrating cultural champions can reinforce the desired behaviours (O'Reilly & Caldwell, 1985).

An excellent example of overcoming cultural challenges can be found in IBM's cultural transformation. When IBM faced a shifting technological landscape, they initiated a cultural shift towards innovation and agility. Through clear communication, involving employees in ideation, and gradual changes, they successfully adapted their culture to thrive in the digital age (Cameron & Quinn, 2006).


In this analysis, it was found that the interplay between organisational culture and leadership is intricate and pivotal. Leadership not only reflects but also shapes the prevailing culture within an organisation. This symbiotic relationship is a cornerstone in defining an organisation's ethos and plays a critical role in its achievements. Further investigation into the role of leadership in shaping culture reveals strategies for guiding an organisation's cultural trajectory towards specific goals.

The article highlighted the influential role of leaders as the primary architects, exemplars, and enforcers of an organisation's culture. Their actions, beliefs, and decisions create a cascading effect, establishing the cultural tone and setting expectations within the organisation. Through various case studies, the transformative power of leaders in aligning organisational culture with their strategic vision and objectives was examined. Recognising this influence is essential for leaders aiming to foster a culture that promotes employee engagement, innovation, and drives overall organisational success.

Challenges such as resistance to cultural change, inertia, changes in leadership, and alignment issues were acknowledged as significant hurdles. To overcome these, strategies including effective communication, engaging employees in the change process, implementing gradual cultural shifts, focusing on leadership development, and highlighting success stories were discussed. These approaches highlight the capacity of leaders to effect cultural transformation and establish a productive interplay between leadership and organisational culture.


Schein, E. H. (1990). Organizational culture. American Psychologist, 45(2), 109-119.

Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture's consequences: International differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Cameron, K. S., & Quinn, R. E. (2006). Diagnosing and changing organizational culture: Based on the competing values framework. John Wiley & Sons.

Kotter, J. P., & Heskett, J. L. (1992). Corporate culture and performance. Simon and Schuster.

Denison, D. R. (1990). Corporate culture and organizational effectiveness. John Wiley & Sons.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership. John Wiley & Sons.

Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership (2nd ed.). Psychology Press.

Avolio, B. J., & Bass, B. M. (2004). Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire: Manual and sampler set (3rd ed.). Mind Garden.

Brown, A. D. (2015). Identities and identity work in organizations. International Journal of Management Reviews, 17(1), 20-40.

Alvesson, M., & Sveningsson, S. (2015). Changing organizational culture: Cultural change work in progress. Routledge.


Mojo delivers a number of unique benefits for any organisation that cares about its employees.
These include:
<li>Improved employee motivation, wellbeing and resilience</li>
<li>Sustainable productivity growth</li>
<li>Talent attraction & retention</li>
<li>Better customer service</li>
<li>The Human Energy Transition<br>
(from Extrinsic to Intrinsic motivation)</li>

Mojo is our online employee motivation platform that drives productivity, wellbeing and resilience

Mojo delivers a number of unique benefits for any organisation that cares about its employees. These include:
  • Improved employee motivation, wellbeing and resilience
  • Sustainable productivity growth
  • Talent attraction & retention
  • Better customer service
  • The Human Energy Transition
    (from Extrinsic to Intrinsic motivation)

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Andrew Stotter-Brooks
Andrew Stotter-Brooks
Vice President Learning & Development
Etihad Aviation Group

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