culture leadership power corporate culture

Leadership. Is it about men, women… culture and power? And which leader would I like to be? This questions were juggling in my head after I read the blog of Suyin.
I recognized something in the article:

“For me there is a big difference between managers and leaders. Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.”

Girl power

You may think that Suyin is one of those feminist, who start to complain about man and leadership or that she will start to gloss over female leadership… Not at all!

In daily professional life we see more managers then leaders and above this
inspiring leaders are still hard to find, male or female. I started to juggle with insights and rethink things…. As usual I took the view of an anthropologist.

First of all a good leader can be male or female, it’s about doing the right things. Which things are good depend on the culture they live in….

In Papoea New Guinea there are a lot of tribes, with all their specific culture and leadership models.

Tolai women assume traditional leadership roles and are vested with land ownership rights. However, men may also assume leadership responsibilities, with most decisions made by the men in consultation with women. Still, discussion remains with the women, who provide wisdom and knowledge to the men.

Sepik leadership is based on respect, trust and integrity of the individual. The onus is on the elders to appoint community leaders. To be considered for community leadership, potential qualified leaders must be reputable and have community standing. Leadership appointments are reached through general consensus as opposed to inheritance. Women are seen as second class to men, and struggle for equal rights and opportunities. Men dominate leadership and preserve the right to disregard women.

Culture is a product of power.

Those who have the highest formal or informal ranking within the culture, decide which norms and values are important.

If you have a high formal or informal ranking, there is a big chance that one day you will be chosen as a leader.

As an anthropologist I refer to the Asian culture, where ranking is important and is visualised by the Wai, the traditional greeting. An introvert way of acting is a symbol of self-control especially within conflict. Introvert is in Asian culture an expression of self-control and a base of informal leadership. 

So this means that corporate culture is built by those who have a high ranking. But because of the fact that there is, most of the time, a formal and informal ranking, you have to be aware of the two culture which are not always the same. And don’t forget what will happen if the formal culture collapses….

But how do you get a high ranking?

The ranking is done by the people within the group, tribe or corporate. If we look at corporates we can say that this internal corporate culture is influenced by his context.
Leadership is ‘deeply attached to culture’ or context, and the culture of national or regional societies impacts on leadership.

Even today we see the difference within big corporates when “they are born” in VS, France or in China .

Experts, researchers have a high ranking in western culture. Different management and leadership tools and literature try to influence the corporate culture everywhere, anywhere.
But does it always works? No!

‘the bulk of leadership literature is based on a self-limiting set of assumptions, mostly reflecting Western industrialised culture. Almost all the prevailing theories of leadership and almost all of the empirical evidence are rather distinctly American in character’. Shahin and Wright (2004 p: 499)

Culture is also the source of power.

Those who know the rules and know how to play with them, can become a leader. External symbols, rituals and a convincing body language are important to be thrust by the people.

As an example we can look at the Haka of the Maori. Haka are dances with a lot of specific body movements, to let other know that you are strong, not afraid and they can be thrusted also in difficult times. If you are the leader act like one, people get confused by incongruent leadership.

Manager or leader?

This last one we see often in corporate culture ones become a manager but don’t act like a leader. All trust will be gone… The informal culture and informal leadership will play a bigger role with consequences for the leadership and culture.

Managers who don’t know the norms, rituals, symbols of their company will never get informal, real leadership. To be a leader is doing the right thing ( Suyin) and to inspire other people to do the right thing. With other words to inspire other people to become  a leader, to corroborate the culture.


In this digital transformational society… do we need to transform culture or power, leaders first?

What about transformation and culture? How can digital innovation  transform our society?

Can we change culture and  how can we do it?

The one who has formal power, are not happy to give it away. They have to choose: adapt or fail…

Personally, I think informal leaders can play an important role this days. Often seen as rebels, they have built a certain leadership that only will grow in time of trouble.

What are the important characteristics of leadership in this time of digital transformation? Next to IQ, EQ we have what they call AQ (adaptivity). How can somebody be adaptive, flexible, creative, open for other views…

What do you think?

4 antwoorden
  1. Carmen
    Carmen zegt:

    Hi Evelien! I agree with your view that informal leadership is crucial, that has been that way forever. If you are a *manager* who wants to lead your team to change you’ll will have to share your power and resources with the informal leader(s). We are moving fast towards less hierarchical times, so managers will soon have no choice but to adapt to cooperation, as you write also. The times they are changing.


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