The first principle of successful culture shaping – The Shadow of the Leader

Shadow of the Leader

I wrote about the four reasons culture-shaping efforts fail in my previous post (Organizational culture has reached a tipping point, yet many culture change initiatives fail for four key reasons). But what makes them succeed? What makes some culture-change efforts successful where others become simply another ‘flavor of the week’ training session that never translates into real change? This is a subject of great debate and many theories exist.

As we looked for the common denominator of success in the hundreds of culture-shaping efforts we have led at Senn Delaney, the level of CEO ownership and personal engagement won hands down as a key success factor. That came as no surprise to me since the central finding of my field studies of culture for my dissertation 40 years ago was that organizations tend to become “shadows of their leaders” over time. This finding led to our first of four key principles of successful culture shaping, which we call Purposeful Leadership.

It is important to understand that there is a big difference between owning and being personally engaged in a culture transformation and endorsing or blessing the initiative. The all-too-common model is that the CEO announces the culture-shaping initiative and openly supports it and then over-delegates the process to others, usually Human Resources.

To be personally engaged in leading culture change, the CEO must:

  • work on leadership behaviors that they need to shift in themselves and then show up differently to the organization
  • lead his or her senior team through culture-shaping sessions and activities before any other teams take part
  • take ownership of the work on defining the desired and needed culture and clarifying the organization’s purpose

Why Yum! Brands Chairman and CEO David Novak and USAA CEO Joe Robles are truly connected to the Shadow of the Leader concept

Yum! Brands CEO David Novak is an excellent example of a leader who has done one of the best jobs we have seen of understanding the phenomenon of leadership shadow and of intentionally casting a powerful one. David used a focus on creating a recognition culture to build Yum! from a spin-off of PepsiCo where it was failing to a global brand across 117 countries and 1.4 million employees with remarkable international expansion and more than a decade of double-digit earnings growth. He was honored as 2012 CEO of the Year by Chief Executive magazine.

David talks about shadow of the leader and the role of culture in creating a defining global brand in this Senn Delaney video.  

Another leader who has done a remarkable job of leading culture is General Joe Robles, CEO of USAA, a financial services firm serving military families. If you ask him what his job is, Joe he will tell you, “I am the Chief Culture Officer.” USAA has won some of the most coveted awards, including the highest customer loyalty, the highest customer satisfaction and the number one place to work in technology in America. USAA is also one of the top-performing companies in the financial services sector. He attributes the majority of that success to his focus on culture.

Robles talks about his role in leading culture in this matter-of-fact video.

Elements of purposeful leadership

Starting the culture-shaping process with the CEO’s team is a key part of purposeful leadership. A full list of elements in purposeful leadership in shaping a culture include:

  • The CEO and senior leadership must own and lead the culture-shaping process.
  • Leaders need to have a clear, compelling purpose for themselves and their organization, coupled with a strong business rationale to inspire a Thriving organizational culture.
  • The process needs to be supported by resources and a systematic execution plan, like any other business strategy.
  • Leaders cast a powerful shadow; therefore, the culture needs to be explicitly defined via values and behaviors and modeled by the senior team.

This last element in purposeful leadership also speaks to shadow since the senior team needs to define and model a set of values and behaviors they create. While most all organizations have a value set, many are outdated or incomplete in defining the culture they need to win today. Since a wise old axiom is, “If you can’t define it you can’t create it.” work on better understanding what culture is and what it should be is part of the role of the CEO’s team.

In future posts I’ll describe The Essential Value Set, which provides a framework for creating a healthy, high-performing culture, and discuss the other three principles of culture shaping.

Do you agree that the leadership shadow is important in culture change? What other aspects of purposeful leadership would you add to this list? Please comment below.

About the Author

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Larry Senn

Dr. Larry Senn est un pionnier dans le domaine de la culture d'entreprise. Il est président et fondateur de Senn Delaney, société de Heidrick & Struggles, spécialisée dans la culture internationale. La vision de Larry et son leadership depuis quatre décennies ont aidé Senn Delaney à devenir une société internationale largement reconnue comme autorité et praticienne de premier plan dans le domaine de la formation de la culture. Larry a dirigé des activités de formation de la culture pour les dirigeants de nombreuses organisations, dont des dizaines de PDG de sociétés Fortune 500, de gouverneurs d’État, de membres de deux cabinets de président américain, de doyens d’écoles de commerce et de présidents de grandes universités. Il est un consultant accompli, un conseiller en affaires, un facilitateur de groupe, un auteur, un coach de PDG et un orateur. Larry a co-écrit plusieurs livres, notamment Winning Teams, Winning Cultures et 21st Century Leadership. En 2013, il a publié son dernier livre, L'ascenseur de l'humeur: Vivre sa vie à son meilleur. Ce livre révèle des principes profonds, des concepts fascinants et des outils pratiques utiles pour aider les personnes à améliorer leur expérience de la vie, à améliorer leurs résultats, à établir de meilleures relations et à créer du succès avec moins de stress. Avant de fonder Senn Delaney, Larry dirigeait sa propre entreprise de vente au détail à l'université, était ingénieur principal dans l'industrie aérospatiale et membre du corps enseignant de l'Université de Californie du Sud et de l'Université de Californie à Los Angeles où il a enseigné le leadership. Larry est titulaire d'une licence en ingénierie, d'un MBA de l'UCLA et d'un doctorat en administration des affaires de l'USC. Lire sa biographie complète.