08 Jan Why should anyone be led by you?


This is a question that all leaders should ask themselves but, if we do, our reflection is often skill or attribute focused, for example should I be more visionary, or more empathic, or more decisive?. Is this skill or attribute focus the most effective way to think about leadership in today’s increasingly complex organisations?  No; these days we need to think of the bigger picture too, the context in which we lead, and it is this that I will address in my blog.

Peter Drucker said ‘Culture eats Strategy for breakfast’. By this, I think he meant that getting the culture right is the most important thing an organisation can do and that a good strategy is only part of getting the culture right. Many organisations struggle to understand how they can affect culture so in this blog I will try to demystify this for leaders.

Firstly, let’s take a simple definition of culture: Deal & Kennedy define it as the way we do things around here’. So how do we, as leaders, affect ‘the way we do things around here’. This can be reworded as the way people do things around here’ and a reason that it is difficult to affect cultural change is that people are not machines with a predicable outcome to any intention to directly control them.  People are, to a large extent, self organising and  will do the best they can in the environment, or context, in which they find themselves. In other words: ‘People will do things for their reasons and not yours’.

So, as a leader with culture in mind, the most important thing is to set the context, or environment, of the organisation in which people have the best possible chance of being able to self organise and work to the best of their ability. The outcome will be a more sustainable approach where people will work out what is best for themselves within a reasonable set of parameters that define the environment of the organisation in which they are working.

The environment in which people work can be likened to a picture frame. Your role as a leader is to set the frame in which the people you lead can self organise and perform to the best of their ability.


There are four leadership aspects to create the frame and these aspects will not be new to you:

1. Communicating a clear vision and strategy and ensuring alignment

2. Clarifying roles, responsibilities and objectives

3. Ensuring effective processes, procedures and systems are in place

4. Monitoring performance, giving regular feedback and developing people.

If you do all of these with trust and respect, you will have gone a long way towards creating a good culture where there is clarity about what’s expected of each and every person. So, this blog is advocating that, as a leader in today’s complex organisations, you use your leadership skills to set the frame which provides the right context for performance. Providing this frame is a helpful way to think about how you can really add value as a leader. Rather than embroil yourself in too much task focus, think of the bigger picture – the frame that will support sustainable performance – the culture.

Let’s bring the leader’s role in creating a frame to life with a metaphor about keeping tropical fish. To ensure your fish flourish you wouldn’t take them out of the tank and clean them individually; instead, you would provide the right environment with, for example, clean water, the right temperature, food, interesting features in the tank, etc. Whilst people  are far more complex than fish, the message is similar: as a leader you can most affect culture by getting the frame, or environment, right and this is where your focus should be. If you look after the environment then the people will look after themselves.

So, in summary, why should anyone by led by you?

Not necessarily because you are visionary, empathic or decisive, but because you have created an environment in which people will flourish through setting a frame that allows people to self organise in a way that allows them to do their best for the organisation.


Posted by Mark Procter

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