We’ve all experienced it: a boss or team leader whose lack of needed skills hurt rather than helped the organization. Many of us have also had leaders whose skills and vision reshaped our organization toward the successful attainment of corporate goals and mission.

How does a coach help turn the first kind of leader into the second kind? The answer is: by understanding the Leader-Culture Fit.

Leaders influence culture and vice versa. How that two-way interaction plays out is unique to every leader-organization combination and demands careful assessment. To be successful, the assessment must use tools that meet three important requirements.

  1. Parallel attributes. The leader and the culture must be rated on the same set of attributes—team building, customer focus, strategic direction, etc. This gives both a common language and a data-driven basis for comparing a leader’s strengths/weaknesses with the corresponding strengths/weaknesses within the organization. Descriptive tools, prescriptive tools, or a combination may be used for this, as long as they assess parallel attributes.
  2. Commensurate measures. The assessments must use a common rating scale. The coach will need to help interpret and contextualize assessment scores, taking into consideration such factors as the rater source (boss, self, peers, direct reports, etc.). and consequent rating discrepancies and their implications. But the rating scales themselves must be the same.
  3. Evaluative judgments of leader and culture attributes. Coaches and leaders need to determine whether an increase or decrease of particular attributes is desired. This judgment is based on a combination of the organization’s and the leader’s needs.

To align leadership development strategies with the broader organization’s development needs, a coach must identify key ways in which the leader can serve as an agent for positive culture change. Well-designed assessment tools organize and augment a coach’s subjective insights about how the organizational culture may support or constrain the leader’s development of desired capabilities. The coach can then help the leader strategize, taking that organizational context into account.

Coaches play a pivotal role in integrating the data across sources, facilitating a sense-making process with the leader, and helping the leader develop into one whose skills and vision can lead his organization to the successful attainment of its goals and mission.

In a future post, we’ll discuss how to map leadership assessments results against the results of organizational culture assessments.

Meanwhile, if you have questions, or if you would like to consult with us regarding your organization’s leadership development, please contact us.

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

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