Why you need a shared approach to Leadership, Engagement and Culture (in 500 words)

It’s old news that these three things have a substantial impact on revenues, costs and growth:

  • Enlightened leadership practises
  • Empowering cultural climate
  • High levels of employee engagement.

So why hasn’t everyone nailed it yet?


People tend to address leadership, culture and engagement separately.

They may see the links, but underplay them when planning & executing solutions.  Also it’s easy to think of leadership as a top manager/high potentials issue; engagement as an employee issue; and culture as separate thing. Most leadership interventions focus on skills (eg strategy, decision making, influencing skills, goal setting etc) and say little about leaders’ cultural impact and responsibility. Nor get them to own the company’s engagement performance. Engagement programmes can focus too heavily on standardised metrics. Not just on measurement over remedies, but on improving the parameters measured (which are usually standard) rather than the emotional connection people feel with their work, employer and leaders. Many organisations devolve responsibility for the three vectors to different people or teams that consult each other rarely if at all when designing interventions. And if they go out of house, third parties that specialise in one or two of the areas, hardly ever all three, focus their work and advice on their speciality. Finally, it’s not uncommon for the three areas to be singled out for attention in different successive years or initiative.


Leadership, engagement and culture are inseparable and should be addressed as such.

Leadership values are a key part of a corporate culture. Leadership behaviour sets the standards that people copy (good or less good), it also reveals much more about what stakeholders actually value (or will tacitly accept) than posters and slogans. Humans are smart, they know that actions are a mirror on the soul, but words are an unreliable information source. Engagement is affected by leadership behaviour more than just about anything else. Engagement levels are part of what defines cultural norms in a business. Even good leaders routinely underestimate the need to see themselves as a cultural icon. People follow people, engage with people, copy people.


There is a world of difference between the behaviours we aspire to and those we actually manifest.

Employees react to the actual way leaders behave, including when stuff is hitting the fan, and research shows 5-10% dissonant behaviour negates 95% resonant actions. The 5-10% causes people to disengage. An organisation’s culture is NOT what their values statements etc state – it is how people behave, get recognised, fit in etc in actual practise.  Values statements and the like are a cultural aspiration and much less often a behavioural reality than we would like to think.


Teach people how to change

Leadership, engagement and cultural interventions all focus on WHAT people should do, maybe even how they should think, but almost never on how to actually change their thinking and behaviour. Which is the thing that defeats people and thereby renders most initiatives ineffective.  So they are quietly ignored until the next planning cycle when we try again. We don’t need to tell people what they should be doing, we need to teach them how to change.  That’s a psychological task, not a business issue. If you would like to discuss the practicalities of a joined up approach to leadership, engagement and culture change please do get in touch. Useful links: my 3 minute video on culture change, leadership resilience and leadership demystified blog pieces, two engagement blogs, explanation of the Grace concept.

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