This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
In the world of leadership development and succession planning, culture fit outweighs core competencies and subject matter expertise in regard to retaining and attracting talented leaders. As Peter Drucker, one of the most influential management consultants of the 21st century, said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Culture is the way a group of individuals collectively work, act and think. It includes the values, beliefs and the way things are done that are passed from generation to generation, along with the organization's core functions and workplace environment.
A leader's success can be influenced by their ability to adapt to the cultural reality of their organization. Why some leaders succeed or fail is not necessarily related only to their management skills or subject matter expertise; it may be culture. Culture is like oxygen. If it's not right for leaders, they may not breathe as easily going to work every day.
One factor that influences a leader's success is the alignment of their personal culture style with that of their organization. Some cultures may expect leaders to be strong and focus on operation at the expense of people. Others expect their leaders to be creative, flexible, dynamic, team-oriented, consultative and collaborative.
A leader who is comfortable with structure and routine may be able to excel as a manager working in a culture such as a correctional facility, where operational policies and procedures are not optional. But such a leader may find it difficult to move to a Google- or Apple-like culture, where managers are encouraged to facilitate innovation and creativity.
Too often, the leader's culture fit is missing from leadership evaluation. A leader could have all the management tools such as communications, delegation, team building, operational management, influencing, and ability to deal with difficult employees to be effective but not be a good personality fit for the culture. What may ultimately impact their success is whether the culture they're working in is fuel or an energy drain on their natural style and desire.
A new leader who has just been brought on may be super strong with people but have gaps in their operational skills. As a result, they may feel pressure and that they are being marked down. They may sense that they are being asked to move away from their natural strengths to spend more time on operations and less on people, which goes against their natural style.
If this leader does not adapt to this culture or figure out how to balance their natural style against it, they may start to question whether they are a good fit. If they leave, it will have nothing to do with skills; clearly, they were qualified to get the job. Work as a front-line manager can be difficult, especially when one does not feel that what they are doing provides any job satisfaction or fulfilment.
How a leader perceives the culture expectation, and the way things are done, will influence their engagement, commitment and loyalty. A leader who is highly competent and in the wrong culture often will find it difficult to come to work every day, to see value and to enjoy their work. As a result, they may ultimately quit, or fail because they are unable to adapt to the culture expectations and they become disengaged. Culture ultimately fuels and charges employees and leaders and impacts their engagement.
Consider a person who loves to draw is told they cannot draw but they can play catch. In the short term this may be fine but, over time, the passion to draw may start to eat away at them and they may start to feel down and miss what they crave. Passion is hard to tame and quantify. Each person defines for themselves what they do and don't enjoy.
What type of culture fits your natural leadership style?
Leaders who wish to evaluate how well their natural style fits their culture can complete the Leader's Culture Fit Quick Survey.
This tool has been developed as a standalone instrument to assist leaders to assess the cultural factors that are important to help them, as well as to benchmark their perception of the culture they are working in.
Once participants complete the survey, they get a report that can help them step back and see how their preferences align with what they perceive the culture expectations are for leaders. The smaller the gap, the more likely they will be able to adapt. This is a common example where a leader who is struggling to fit within a culture can benefit from an executive coach, mentor or trusted peer to discuss what they can do to feel they can get their needs met within the culture and feel that they naturally fit in.
Having developed an 18-course front-line and middle managers certification, I appreciate the importance for leaders to develop their core competencies and the need for training to be transferable from the classroom to the manager's role. However, in the end, many times a leader's success will be determined by how aligned their preferred leadership style is a cultural fit for the leader and organization.
Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is chief research and development officer, work force productivity, at Morneau Shepell, Halifax. He is also president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.