Transforming corporate culture requires growth at every level of an organization as you develop new patterns and skills to meet the demands of new circumstances. Leading culture transformation requires development and honing of leadership skills. But which skills are most relevant to the change process in your organization? Which ones should a coach help you focus on? The answer depends on the Leader-Culture Fit. Determining the Leader-Culture Fit requires assessing both the leader’s and the culture’s strengths regarding various traits—team building, customer focus, strategic direction, etc.—and mapping them against each other as shown here.

Example Trait     Leadership Attribute         Organizational Attribute           Map
1 Trait A Low High Unmatched Low
2 Trait B High High Matched High
3 Trait C High Low Unmatched High
4 Trait D Low Low Matched Low

Many more than four traits would be assessed, of course, but the chart shows the four key mapping results for any given trait: matched high, unmatched high, matched low, and unmatched low.

Line 1: Unmatched Low. When a leader is weak in an area where the organization is strong, you can leverage the existing culture in the leadership development process. The organization is likely to be supportive of the leader’s development, providing practical support and psychological safety for learning and growth.

Line 2: Matched High. When both the leader and the organization have high marks on a particular trait, it’s possible to build the organization utilizing and further developing those strengths. This requires specific development plans, while avoiding an overemphasis on these traits that could result in ignoring or even fostering comparative weaknesses.

Line 3: Unmatched High. When the leader is strong in areas that the organization is weak, a coach may help develop the leader as an agent for culture change. Coaching strategies will differ based on factors such as the organization’s awareness of the current state of its culture, the level of support and momentum for change, and the leader’s experience and credibility.

Line 4: Matched Low. When both the leader and the culture are weak on a particular trait, unique challenges arise. You must address and overcome potential cultural constraints (active or passive) on the leader’s growth. There may be mixed or inconsistent signals about what leadership behaviors are valued within the organization. Support for learning and applying new skills may be nominal, so it may be useful to connect the leader with external opportunities for development, such as offsite training. The key is to understand the unique challenges presented by the culture, enhance the leader’s awareness of these challenges, and adjust the development plan accordingly.

Regardless of the mix of a matched and unmatched highs and lows that make up a particular Leader-Culture fit, coaching can help the leader recognize her potential as an agent or champion in the ongoing change process and clarify the level of involvement and role that would be most appropriate.

If you have questions, or if you would like to consult with us regarding your organization’s leadership development, please be in touch.

This post is adapted from the article “Aligning leadership and organizational culture: the leader–culture fit framework for coaching organizational leaders,” in Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (2013, Vol. 65, No. 3, 177–198) by Levi Nieminen, Benjamin Biermeier-Hanson, Daniel Denison.

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