Who Needs a Leader?

I was reading my most recent issue of Bloomberg Business Week, last week. And I read an article on the protests against the Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The photo had a protester with a banner that read,  “A Strong Society Needs No Leader.” This stood out for me because I have been reading and speaking lately on the value of culture in our organizations. Specifically how if we spend the time to develop a strong culture, it can almost run itself.

I say almost because I have watched strong cultures erode and need to be refreshed. And while I am not sure we don’t need leaders I am sure that if we as leaders pay attention to the culture of our organizations we can spend our time out front of the organization instead of managing the daily grind.

How does one build a strong culture?

1.    Orientation – When new members join the team there needs to be clear expectations. When we know what is expected we know how to move forward. And orientation can come from the stories about our organization, the training material, the length and detail of the training and so on. The more thought we put into this the stronger the orientation.
2.    Practice or Drill – Our people need to learn and practice their craft. One way that I have seen that is effective and reinforcing training is internal audits that reinforce the training goals and objectives. It is like the martial artist that practices their Kata thousands of times until it becomes part of their muscle memory. We can drill culture in a similar manner.
3.    Recognition and advancement – When you look at the military they do a great job of orienting their members, the drill and train to point of precision and then they recognize and reward individuals for achievement. Napoleon once said, “”A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” We all yearn to be recognized.

If we spend the time and energy up front developing the culture of our organization we can take a vacation and it will run itself.


  1. Hi John,

    This is a good topic. At its core it relates back to a time honored tradition of teams in that good teams self discipline. They don’t need the leader to keep team members in line because the team members do that on their own. Of course, it’s the leader that defines that all important culture that the team buys into and therefore self-polices.

    I like your comments about culture. Culture is getting more and more press recently, and deservedly so. When the culture fits the employee and the organization good things happen. We’ve all been in jobs where we were certainly capable of doing the job, but the cultural mismatch made us unhappy at work.

    Leaders need to formally define the culture they want for the company and then take the actions to implement and support that culture. Orientation is a good formal introduction to the culture but in reality the culture should be on display throughout the interview process. And while words on a page in the orientation are good and even necessary, nothing clarifies the words better than a good story.

    For example, many companies say, “The customer is always right”. But when that is followed up with a story of how an employee went out of his way to ensure customer satisfaction, and then was rewarded and recognized for that action, THEN the new employee gets a feel for what is expected.

    Nothing impacts the delivery of a message more than a good story.

    Dave Meyer
    Author: The Engaged Manager

  2. Thanks Dave,

    For your comments and insight. You make a good point with stories. When we tell stories we get people emotionally involved. When emotions are engaged so to then is the individual.

    Thanks again,


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