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The Leadership Tool You Ignore At Your Peril

The Leadership Tool You Ignore

At Your Peril

There is a force so powerful that if you harness it you can achieve more as a leader in a few months than others can in a life-time. What is that power? Culture! Culture is the leadership tool you ignore at your peril.

The Power of Culture

Culture is a very powerful force. When all the members of a culture are aligned, pointing in the same direction and seeking to attain the same ends, operating as one, it is truly awesome.

Most of the greatest human achievements, politically, socially, commercially and technically have occurred under those circumstances, where a culture has been aligned.

A well-aligned organisation will always out perform a non-aligned or partially aligned organisation.
To achieve that level of alignment in most settings requires a great understanding of culture and its mode Awesome Purposeof reproduction. If you understand culture, full alignment, with all its competitive advantages, is available to you.

However, if you avoid it, if your competitors embrace it, you will quickly find that culture is the leadership tool you ignore at your peril.

If culture were not a powerful force why would so many oppressive governments since society began have tried to censor incoming information?

Why did Stalin try to stop information about the values and culture of the West getting into the Soviet Union?

Today, why do some governments prevent or try to prevent the use of satellites or the internet? Because when culture starts to move and change it is an irresistible force, and autocrats everywhere know that, and are frightened by its power. That power can sweep them away at incredible speed.

That same power can also be harnessed for great good. Good that you will miss out on, unless you understand culture. As I keep saying, culture is the leadership tool you ignore at your peril.

As a leader, what is the smart thing to do? Learn about culture, learn how it works, learn what forces shape it, learn what forces change it, learn how to harness it, learn how to unleash its power in a specified direction. Learn how to make culture you ally.

What is culture?

“The way we do things around here,” is the clichéd and knee-jerk response. Let’s take that up a notch.

Where does culture cease to be an invisible and abstract concept? Where can culture be witnessed?

Every time a decision is made, it reveals your culture in big neon lights.

Every structure broadcasts what is valued in the company.

All policies say ‘this is valued’ and ‘that is not.’

Each and every customer interface situation screams to the customer what your company is, what it values and where it is going.

Every tiny detail of your reward systems tells each and every member of staff which behaviours will be valued and which will be ignored or penalised.

All your recruitment decisions are a loudhailer announcement to your existing staff, as are all the people who applied for each post who were not hired.

Every time you promote someone you say to everyone else ‘this is what we value in this organisation.’

Every time you dismiss someone, you address an invisible AGM and say ‘we consider this so unacceptable that we are prepared to dismiss for it.’

Every time you do not dismiss someone, when you ought to, you declare: “And you too can get away with this. THIS is OK.”

Every supplier you use and every supplier you reject broadcasts what you are and what your culture is to many of those they come into contact with.

As we said, every single thing that goes on in your company reveals your culture. Nothing, absolutely nothing can be done which does not either reveal your culture or send hugely powerful signals to others about it.

Is culture the collective, the shared psychological environment?

The Perfect CultureIs culture this? “The collection of things that people in any defined group do, think, make and say; all their ideas, methods, rituals, artefacts, laws and so on.”

That is too long and clumsy a definition. Let’s try something shorter. “A shared set of values which tend to be self-perpetuating.”

That does not really work either. Culture is more than just values, it also includes methods, systems, know-how. What we need is some term that includes all of these ‘things’.

The term: memes.

The concept of memes is not new. It has been around in the social sciences for some time; thought to have been coined by Prof Richard Dawkins in the 1970s. But what are memes? That is best illustrated by an analogy which compares software and hardware to our mental and physical selves. Our genes are the hardware and our memes are the software. Our genes are expressed as our bodies, our memes are expressed as our behaviour, and all its consequences.

An obvious definition of culture that springs from that understanding is: “Culture is the self-perpetuating collection of memes shared by any group of people.”

The Workings of Culture

Memes are the beliefs, values, knowledge, know-how, methods, procedures, indeed any discernible unit of information which can be different in one culture from that in another.

Some examples.

All cultures have some kind of religion, so there must be a meme or a meta-meme for religion.

Each culture has laws so there is a meme for law.

Each culture has rites of passage so there is a meme for that.

Each culture has developed its own technologies and methodologies for doing the things all human beings have to do to survive in a collective environment.

Food growing, gathering and distribution… so there will be memes for those too.

A meme is a unit of information in a person’s head that they believe enables them to function effectively in some context.

Memes and values are like magnetic forces, in themselves they are invisible but their effect can be seen.

Does the meme ‘conservation of energy’ exist? Human mastery of physics looks very different before its emergence than after it was discovered and spread by Newton. After the publication of Newton’s ‘Principia’ did the world not gradually adopt a more rigorous form of science than the Greek memes gave us? Is science not the most successful meme ever?

Does the meme ‘justice’ exist? The existence of a legal system in every country in the world certainly indicates that. Does the meme ‘freedom’ exist? People all over the world are and have been prepared to lay down their lives for it.


That was a VERY brief introduction to culture. A taster to let you know how powerful the forces of culture are. An indicator of what you could achieve if you learned how to harness the power of culture.

Enough, I hope, to make you aware, that culture is the leadership tool you ignore at your peril.

If you want to understand culture so well that you can lead cultures, manage cultures, change cultures, then contact PsyPerform.

Here is an offer that may help you. You can have a free development session with Prof Nigel MacLennan.

To take up that offer contact PsyPerform here.

Prof Nigel MacLennan

Copyright PsyPerform 2016

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