The Influence of Leadership on Organizational Culture

Table of Content

Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline . . . Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, and then one can be a leader. Sun Tzu 1Leadership is and has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”[1]. A definition more inclusive of followers comes from Alan Keith of Genentech who said “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen[2]. Leadership is one of the most relevant aspects of the organizational context.

However, defining leadership has been challenging. The following sections discuss several important aspects of the influence of leadership on organizational culture. 2. The importance of knowledge in organization has been highlighted as early as in 1890 by Alfred Marshall. However, its popularity has been accentuated only in the nineties[3]. The intensification of interest in knowledge management is driven by a host of factors which collectively reflect the urgent need for organization to manage knowledge.

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These factors include: (1) the increasing realization that wealth is generated from knowledge and intangible assets: (2) the rediscovery that human resource is the reservoir of organizational knowledge; (3) the rapid change in markets, competition and technology which demand continuous learning to remain competitive; (4) the recognition that innovation stems from knowledge creation and application; (5) the growing importance of cross-boundary knowledge transaction resulting from the globalization process; and (6) the technology limitations to unearth certain types of knowledge such as tacit knowledge[4]. . Schein in particular described in details the significant roles of leadership in the creation and management of organizational culture throughout organizational growth; early life, midlife and maturity and decline. During the formation of organizations, leaders or founders have a major impact on how the early members of the organization define and solve their “external adaptation and internal integration problems” [5]. Since founders or leaders are usually entrepreneurs who have a high level of self-confidence and determination, they usually impose strong assumptions to their invented organizations.

When their assumptions survive and successful in the business environment, the assumptions will be perceived as correct and eventually will be internalized as part of the organizational culture. Furthermore, founders or leaders tend to select other organizational members that have the similar assumptions and therefore strengthen the foundation of the organizational culture. Organizational members who have conflicting views on organizational culture tend to leave and thus creating a more homogeneous climate for those who remains.

Schein proposed two types of mechanisms used by the leaders/founders to integrate their assumptions in the organizational culture. 4. In organizations, the secondary mechanisms are sometimes labeled as organizational climate and they are a reflection and manifestation of cultural assumptions derived from the leaders, especially at the initial formation of the organizations. These secondary mechanisms can become a powerful reinforcement of the primary mechanisms used by the leaders.

The principles of using the secondary mechanisms are that they must be consistent with the primary mechanisms and leaders need to set an example. 5. The dynamics of midlife, maturity and declining organizations in term of the influence of leaders are quite different from the early stage of organization formation. For example, in the midlife organizations, the culture determines the leadership as founders have been replaced with newer generations of CEOs. The new breed of leaders needs to understand the organizational culture and decide which cultural assumptions that needs to be changed.

In short, they become the cultural change agents. They can promote changes through systematic promotion of desired subculture, use planned organizational development projects, create parallel learning structure or unfreezing and change through technological seduction. When the organizations enter into the maturity and decline phase, which may indicate that the existing organizational culture becomes outdated, the leaders need to start the change process at a more pervasive level. At this juncture, leaders with transformational leadership style are often desirable[6]. . Drawing from the given importance of leadership roles in organizational culture formation and management described above, it is apparent that in order to cultivate organizational cultures that support knowledge management initiative, leadership that favor and believe in the importance of knowledge management is mandatory. Leadership that is not supportive of knowledge management initiatives or believe that knowledge management is just another ‘quick-fix’ solution would not be able to mobilize the organizational culture to knowledge supportive culture.

Leaders who are ‘knowledge-conscious’ will act and think favorably in the knowledge management direction. Accordingly, organizational resources, systems and structure will reflect the cultural assumptions of the leaders via the use of secondary mechanisms proposed by Schein. Furthermore, leaders who plan to implement knowledge management initiatives need to assess the stage of their organizational growth as different types of cultural transformation mechanisms should deployed in accordance to the different stages of organizational growth. . Viitala agreed with Schein’s contention on the significant roles played by leadership on the knowledge-supportive organizational culture. She asserted that leaders are “creators of organizational climate…who make interventions to the community of work are safe and supportive in order to facilitate learning”. She further proposed the term knowledge leadership as the most suitable leadership in knowledge management implementation.

Knowledge leadership is a participative leadership that create climate to promote learning, support learning process at individual and group level and inspires employees toward continual development. The most important principle is that the knowledge leaders must “lead by example” [7]. Riebera and Sitar (2003) did not propose any new breed of leadership for the knowledge management but highlighted the imperative roles of leadership in implementation of knowledge-supportive culture.

8. A research worth highlighting is done by Politis (2001) on the relationship of different types of leaderships to knowledge management. Finding of his research showed that leadership styles that involve human interaction and encourage participative decision-making process were positively related to the knowledge management initiatives. Specifically, leadership styles that were characterized by mutual trust and respect for subordinates’ ideas and feelings were particularly related to knowledge acquisition attributes.

Although Politis (2001) did not mention directly the effect of leadership on organizational culture, he acknowledged the dynamics of leadership in fostering knowledge management initiatives, which centers on the creation of knowledge-sharing culture. 9. Leadership also forms a foundation in knowledge creation process. According to Nonaka, Toyama and Konno, leadership in the knowledge-creating process is achieved through four basic means, which are[8]; a. Providing knowledge vision b. Developing and promoting knowledge assets c. Creating and energizing ba d.

Enabling and promoting the continuous spiral of knowledge creation. 10. Favoring the distributive leadership over the top-down leadership, they provide support to Schein’s contention on the importance of leadership in shaping desirable organizational culture. The vision articulated by the leaders is the all-encompassing element that affects all layers of knowledge-creating process. It defines the values system and the organizational culture of the organization, which in turn will evaluate, justify and determine the quality of the knowledge the organization creates.

11. Therefore what we can conclude from the first part of the discussion, it is apparent that organizational culture has significant effect on the implementation of knowledge management initiatives. Knowledge-supportive organizational culture needs to promote free flow of information among employees across organizational hierarchies, cultivates trust for knowledge-sharing and using and align organizational structure, rewards system and process in congruence with the knowledge management initiatives. In the second part, we highlight the pervasive role of leadership in shaping the desired knowledge-supportive culture.

Organizational culture is seen as a reflection of the leadership’s aspiration, especially at the growth stage of the organization. Only leaders of the organizations are in the position to mobilize all available organizational resources toward the desired goals. 12. In Malaysian context, we feel that leadership is the main issue to be tackled prior to organizational culture. This is especially true since many organizations; especially the small and medium enterprises are at growth stage of development. Nevertheless, further validation through empirical studies on this issue is warranted.

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The Influence of Leadership on Organizational Culture. (2017, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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