Organizational Leadership and Culture Across the World

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 15
Words: 4233
Reading time:
15 min
Study level: PhD


Different parts of the world are governed and monitored by various styles of leadership which with time, have become the culture of the particular region. Virtually all countries all over the world have unique cultures which play a great role in shaping their occupational as well as community cultures. These variations in cultures help in understanding and resolving intergroup conflicts that may arise in the course of day to day relationships. A significant number of researches on the concept of culture and leadership have been conducted with an aim of bringing clear understanding to this topic which has been a concern, especially for business organizations and other structured groups. Research findings reveal that the behaviors of leadership are greatly influenced by the varying national cultures (Schein, 2004). This explains the similarities and differences that exist in different countries (Chhokar, Brobeck & House, 2007). Many researchers have formed their theses around this idea with an aim of exploring the scope of the cultural imperative that may exist. The research paper seeks to explore the extent to which this concept of culture and leadership has been studied by different researchers. It will offer definitions for key terms, focus on some organizational culture typologies, elements of culture, how it is created, the concept of organizational culture and how it can be changed, with emphasize on the crucial role that organizational leadership play in implementing cultural principles in order to achieve organizational objectives.


Culture and leadership in any given organization are two interrelated terms that help in shaping the entire organization. According to Schein (2004), leadership plays a critical role in determining the success or failure of a given organization. He points out that it is essential to consider how the organizational leadership creates culture and at the same time try to understand how culture itself can shape leadership. Culture has been defined as a dynamic phenomenon that can be found always in the course of human interactions, being created and enacted on a constant basis as people interact, either in groups or organizations, and is shaped by the leadership behavior, as well as a set of routines, structures, rules, principles, and norms that serve to provide direction and regulate behavior (Schein, 2004). When culture is brought to the organizational level and further to the groups within the organization, it can be clearly seen how culture can be created, implanted, evolved, and ultimately manipulated. On the other hand, one can be able to understand how organizational culture regulates, stabilizes, and offer a clear structure and meaning to the members of the group within the organization.

The constantly changing process of culture creation as well as its management has been identified by many researchers as being the essence of organizational leadership. This implies that culture and leadership in any given organization are two closely related terms that must be understood in relation to each other. The concept of organizational leadership has been studied using varying methods of research and from different perspectives. The research findings, however, have been found to be mutually consistent. The Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research Project undertook to investigate the concepts of leadership and culture from a new perspective, different from that of social scientists (Chhokar et al., 2007).

According to Chhokar et al., culture and leadership are among the most investigated and written about concepts in social sciences yet they remain to be the least understood topics in the same field (2007). They analyzed the concept of leadership and culture in 25 different societies using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. In their research, they identified three key terms which they referred to as constructs; culture, leadership, and organizational practices and values.

There are as many perspectives of understanding culture as there are different researches into the concept, especially among social scientists. Social scientists have defined this term as a set of factors of collectivities that attempt to draw the difference between them in meaningful ways. After considerable deliberations, the GLOBE researchers arrived at a cross-cultural definition of culture. The authors define culture as a collection of shared motives, values, beliefs, identities, as well as interpretations or meanings of significant events that arise from shared experiences of members of collectives and are passed on across several generations (Chhokar et al., 2007). The definition offered contains psychological attributes or otherwise known as abstractions and it is important to note that it can be applied both during the organizational and societal levels of analysis.

Leadership, on the other hand, has also been under investigation by most social scientists for a long period of time now (Cummings & Worley, 2005), yet there is no definition of leadership that can be regarded a universal one (Chhokar et al., 2007). Numerous definitions of leadership have been made by scholars. However, all these definitions have some similarities especially as far as influence is concerned. Leadership has been commonly defined as the power of a leader to influence other people with an aim of tapping their efforts towards the accomplishment of specified goals of an organization (Chhokar et al., 2007). Most researchers have defended the varied definitions of the term, citing the various intentions of the studies as the basis.

Organizational practices and values refers to the sum total description of psychological attributes, attitudes, collective experiences, and the belief system and values of any given organization (Schein, 2004). These values become embedded in an organization and end up regulating the ways of interaction among the members of the organization as well as the stakeholders who are not within the organizational setting. Furthermore, organizational values play a central role in determining the kind of objectives that members ought to pursue as well as prescribing the appropriate practices and behavior to be used by members to fulfill the set objectives.

Strong and Weak Cultures

Culture can be classified as either being strong or weak depending on how the members align themselves to the values governing an organization. When the members of an organization stick by the organizational values, then the particular organization will exhibit a strong organizational culture (Cummings & Worley, 2005). When a strong culture is embraced by the members of an organization, the daily businesses will run smoothly without any hitches. This is because under such an environment, the members are convinced of their actions being right and this may result in groupthink which may turn out to be harmful to the organization. Groupthink has been defined by many researchers as a process of thinking that is commonly exercised in collective duty or responsibility where the members are forced to seek unanimity instead of keenly appraising alternative individual approaches or solutions (Francese, 2009).

According to a research by Cummings and Worley (2005), groupthink may not be all that healthy for an organization. The risk of this style of thinking is that the members of a given organization are not allowed to challenge the unanimously agreed upon thinking of the organization, which in turn result in decreased capacity for innovative thinking. Situations under which such a case may occur include; the presence of charismatic individual whose ideas are taken as being wholly representative of all the members, or a situation where the organization’s belief system is regarded so highly that no one can dare challenge, or still, where the entire organization is engulfed in a very friendly climate that the members avoid conflicting each other (Jaques, Clement & Lessem, 1994). Incase some members seem defiant to the group norms and conventions, they are written off or regarded as contributing negatively to the organizational progress since they normally conflict with the ‘obedient members’. Although groupthink may serve to bring calm to the organization, it hampers innovative thinking which can be brought about by the members who are daring to challenge the conventional ways as well as patterns of thinking in an organization.

Weak cultures, on the other hand, refers to the situation where there is little, if any, adherence to the laid down organizational values. The imposition of the values is achieved through stringent application of extensive procedural steps and bureaucratic measures. In this environment, members feel they should not be pushed to stick by the existing culture in the organization. As much as weak culture may result in the loss of organizational cohesion, it plays a great role in enhancing innovative thoughts from the members and hence may lead to insight for promoting organizational development (Black, 2003).

Categories of Organizational Cultures

Organizational cultures, as mentioned in the introduction, have been studied by several researchers. The different approaches used by the researchers have resulted in the development of some methods of classifying them. The following section focuses on the different types of organizational cultures by different renowned researchers.

Edgar Schein

According to Schein (2004), organizational culture refers to a pattern of basic beliefs that are commonly shared after solving its challenges involving the adaptation of external ideas and integration of internal factors that have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that they can be relied upon, hence, worthy of being transferred to the new members as the valid methods of looking at problems, thinking about them, as well as feeling the challenges. Schein pointed out that culture is one of the most complex attributes of any given organization to change, the products of the organization, leadership, including other physical organizational attributes. He focused on organizational culture from three levels of cognition.

The first category is that of organizational attributes which can be perceived, touched, and heard by artifacts. These include the facilities, offices, furniture, recognition and rewards, dress code, and organizational interactions at different levels. They also include slogans for the organization, organizational mission, and other values used in the running of the organization.

The second level is that of organizational values that have been professed by the members. At this particular level, both personal and organizational values are largely practiced by the members of an organization. Researchers can be able to study the culture of an organization at this level through interviewing members by the use of well designed questionnaires to collect information concerning their attitudes towards the organization.

Schein’s third level is the deepest and it is where the assumptions and values of any given organization can be found. At this level, cultural elements that are not obviously noticeable or identifiable in the day to day interaction by the organizational members are contained (Schein, 2004). Furthermore, the organizational culture at this level is so established that no member can comprehend criticizing it. They are so ingrained in the organizational system that members will just be absorbed into them unconsciously, especially for the new members who may join the organization. Researchers have concluded that ordinary interviews and surveys conducted on the organization may not be able to draw out the deep-rooted cultural values; instead, advanced means of investigation is necessary to understand the culture of the organization (Schein, 2004). Most organizational behaviorists often miss to reach this particular level during their studies yet it is the most essential in understanding the entire functioning of the organization and the forces that help in shaping the organizational culture (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

This particular model developed by Schein can help in understanding the underlying organizational culture. This is because what an organization may seem to be practicing at the second level may be totally different when it comes to the deep-rooted culture which can only be identified under level three (Schein, 2004). This becomes a challenge for all researchers who base their analysis of organizational culture on level two. This may result in superficiality and hence the drawing of invalid conclusions. The degree of complexity of the third level explains why some members may take extremely long time to acclimatize themselves with the organizational culture. Furthermore, many would-be change agents in the organization fail to attain their goals due to lack of clear understanding of the deeply-seated organizational culture (Schein, 2004). Generally, bringing any meaningful change may require more than understanding the depths of organizational culture; instead, one must be aware of the underlying interpersonal encounters.

Deal and Kennedy

The second perspective of understanding organizational culture was proposed by Deal and Kennedy who considered it as the way of doing things in any given organization. According to the two researchers, organizations can be investigated on the basis of the following parameters; feedback and risk. Feedback refers to the response that is received in the course of interaction within or outside the organization. When the feedback is quick, then it implies that the response is also instant. Feedback can take different forms, including monetary terms. Risk, according to Deal and Kennedy, can be understood as the probability of certainty/uncertainty as far as organizational engagements are concerned. They then used these two factors to classify organizational culture into four major categories.

The first one is The Tough-Guy Macho Culture. This classification is characterized by very quick response and very high rewards. It applies mostly to activities involving fast exchange of services like in the case of brokerage or during athletic sport competitions where time is the matter of concern. Members in such organizations are usually stressed especially when targets are not achieved within the set time limit (Jaques et al., 1994). The second category is The Work Hard/Play Hard Culture which is most often characterized by fewer risks but with very quick feedback. Huge organizations who aim at achieving quality customer care services usually practice this type of culture. Frequent group meetings within the organization, use of team jargon and technical words are mostly witnessed in an organization which embraces such culture.

The third one is The Bet your Company Culture which is characterized by the making of huge decisions which may take several years before the members can actually experience the feedback. This culture is mostly embraced by large projects or explorations that demand a significant period of time to complete or achieve the objectives (Dean, 2000). Examples of such projects include military aviation and or oil/mineral exploration/prospecting.

The last classification, according to the Deal and Kennedy model of organization is The Process Culture and is experienced where there is minimal feedback expected. The chain of operation or of doing things is so detailed that the members of the organization are exhausted by how things are performed. It is characterized by issues of protocol and bureaucratic demands and many members criticize such culture. However, research findings reveal that with this type of culture, the organizational results are always consistent and easy to predict (Cummings & Worley, 2005). This culture is ideal mostly in public-service offering organizations.

Geert Hofstede

Moreover, according to Geert Hofstede, organizational culture can be classified depending on the regional as well as the national cultural differences which determine how members of an organization behave. He conducted a comparative study of organizational cultures in various countries and developed five dimensions that culture can be analyzed.

The first is the Power distance which implies the extent to which a given society expects the existence of authority or power levels, especially in an organizational structure. In most countries, many believe that there must be some differences in the exercise of power depending on one’s position in the organizational hierarchy (Cummings & Worley, 2005). A notably low number expect that there must be equal rights in the organization.

The second dimension is that of Uncertainty avoidance which depicts the far to which a society takes in the possibilities of uncertainty as well as instances of risk. Most organizational cultures in different countries have been found to try as much as possible to avoid uncertainties and withdraw from risky ventures (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

Individualism versus avoidance is the third dimension identified by Geert. It refers to how far the members of an organization are expected to pursue their interests, or on the other hand, act as per the group dynamics of the organization (collectivism). This claim was advocated by earlier researchers in to organizational culture. However, modern researchers argue that members of an organization may demonstrate high levels of individualism but at the same time embrace collectivism. Their findings also hold for the inverse case where collectivism can thrive without hindering members’ individualism. Further studies have shown that the two concepts are not correlated at all since there is no consistency in their relationship.

The fourth dimension of culture is the Masculinity versus femininity which emphasizes on the conventional values associated with male and female. The traditional male values, for instance, may include ambition, assertiveness, amassing wealth as well as material possessions, and competitiveness. Researchers have established that these attributes play a significant role in the development of organizational culture, especially to the third level according to Schein’s model (2004).

The last level in the Geert’s model is the Long versus short term orientation which determines the organization’s time frame in relation to the future. Organizations which embrace long term objectives will cultivate the culture of perseverance and continued hard work. Short term oriented organizations promote the respect for conventional ways of doing things and the associated rewards are highly favored. According to research findings, countries of the East score very highly in this dimension compared o western nations and the developing countries (Cummings & Worley, 2005).

Arthur F. Carmazzi

Another very useful model of organization culture was developed by Carmazzi and it helps in understanding and explaining the varying cultures across nations. He also devised five sets or classifications of culture.

The first classification is the blame culture which is characterized by members of the organization striving to avoid being on the wrong in the course of their interactions. Members develop a sense of insecurity and distrust and end up blaming each other in order to evade being corrected by higher authorities. According to research, such a culture paralyses the spirit of innovation because members concentrate more on being right and fear making mistakes, especially by suggesting unpopular ideas (Black, 2003).

Multi-directional culture is the second in this model and is commonly cultivated by organizations which require their members to be loyal and engage only with specified departments. This culture leads to minimized cross-departmental interaction. The segregation of departments results in some sort of ‘cold war’ of criticisms where each department wants to be regarded as being much better. Continued trend of lack of interdepartmental cooperation, according to research findings, leads to the inefficiency of the entire organization (Jaque et al., 1994).

The third category is the Live and let live culture which is identified by extremely low levels of innovativeness as a result of mental stagnation and enhanced culture of contentment. Most members of the organization seem to have no ambitions and they lack passion in all their activities. They carry on their engagements as a routine, where there is minimal cooperation and exchange of ideas, hence no growth at all. Organizational members and the leadership develop boundaries as far as who to relate with is concerned.

The fourth type of culture is the Brand congruent where members place the interests of the organization first. They fully support the outcome as well as the efforts of the organization as it strives to achieve the goals. Members of the organization are jointly motivated and are geared towards achieving similar objectives for the enhancement of the organization. One distinguishing characteristic is that members are self-motivated and do not need the leadership to push them around since they feel in control of their responsibilities (Bonke, 1999). However, it is important to note that the entire organization operating under such culture fosters the spirit of group/team work.

The fifth and the last category of organizational culture in the model is the Leadership enriched culture. The members of the organization regard themselves as part and parcel of the organization and are proud to be associated with the organization (Jaque et al., 1994). The ambitions of individual members are in line with those of the organization and they will strive to attain both ends by all means. The members cherish their personal achievements while within the organization. It is characterized by mutual cooperation by all the stakeholders in the organization. Moreover, this culture allows leaders of the organization to develop other leaders rather than cultivating followers (Bonke, 1999). This culture, however, may sound so inspirational, but it requires a strong organizational leadership to develop fully since it may call for a lot sacrifice.

Elements of Culture

Organizational culture is developed over a given period of time and there are some elements which can influence the type of culture embraced. According to Black (2003), there are seven elements which are very useful when it comes to the description of organizational culture.

  • The Paradigm: this refers to what the organization is all about; its activities; mission; and the values that are inherent in the organization.
  • Control Systems: includes all the processes that have been put in place to check what goes on in the organization. They may include rulebooks and behavior systems.
  • Organizational Structures: refers to the order or chain of command in a given organization. These include reporting lines, hierarchical structures, and the order of working in the business.
  • Power Structures: this element prescribes the person who makes key decisions, the distribution of power, as well as the basis of power and its execution.
  • Symbols: refers to the organizational identity. These include the logos and special designs of the organization. Other symbols may connote power, like parking and other special reservations.
  • Rituals and Routines: these are the most significant elements since they encompass all activities of the organization. They include meetings by the leadership and regular reports/presentations to the organizational board.
  • Stories and Myths: these elements are developed from people’s experiences and events, with an aim of depicting what the organization cherishes/values.

The above elements may be dependent on one another but they all characterize and shape the organizational culture and management.

The Creation of Culture

Having focused in detail on the concept of organizational leadership and culture, we can now consider how the different cultures are created in organizations. Leaders can play a very important role in the creation of organizational cultures. Three sources of culture were identified by Schein (2004). First source originates from belief systems, values, and the assumptions and attributes that the founders make. Secondly, the experiences which organizational members undergo also help to create culture. Lastly, new members who join an organization can bring with them new belief systems that may influence organizational culture.

Researchers have unanimously agreed that culture formation is a process and not an event. According to Schein, there are four steps through which organizational cultures are formed. The first one is that there must be a founder of the new idea. Then the originator of the idea shares the idea with one or several people who will form a core group. They explore the idea, share insights, visions, and agree to pursue the idea with the associated risks. The third step is the taking of concerted actions towards achieving the ultimate end of the idea. Then lastly, more people/members are brought on board and the new culture is formed (Schein, 2004). The organizational leadership will henceforth train any new member according to the established culture to ensure its propagation.

Changing Organizational Culture

According to research, changing the culture of an organization is not an easy task at all. Those who push for cultural change must encounter obstacles. Three key factors have been identified as playing a major role in any attempt for organizational change; the existing culture, the organizational leadership versus the change leadership, and the structure of power, i.e. hierarchical order.

Researchers argue that it is impractical to try and change culture directly (Bonke, 1999). They propose that any effort to change organizational culture must aim at using the culture that is already in place in order to bring meaningful change to the organization. This is the strategy that has been employed by many leaders who strive to bring transformation to their organizations (Francese, 2009). Moreover, research findings emphasize on the role of organizational leaders in driving cultural change as well as the kind of leaders that must take this task of change. Recent research findings reveal that the organizational top management can effectively bring the desired change rather than self-appointed individuals who push for change in organizational culture (Dean, 2000). The consideration and use of organizational politics and power have been shown to bring forth meaningful organizational improvement (Schein, 2004). In general, any need for organizational change must consider the interactions among all the stakeholders since it is through these chain of association that culture is formed, thrives, and adapted, rather than imposed by the formal hierarchy of leadership alone (Bonke, 1999). Hence, organizational leaders are well placed to become successful cultural change agents.


The research paper has discussed broadly the concept of organizational leadership and culture. Key terms have been defined in order to provide clear understanding of their use by different researchers. Four major organizational culture typologies have been broadly discussed, as well as the various elements of culture and how culture can be created. The difficult process of changing organizational culture has been discussed. Great work has been done by researchers with an aim of bringing forth a clear understanding of these key concepts. We can conclude, however, that the concept of organizational leadership and culture still offers a very wide area for research, particularly organizational culture as applied to social settings.


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