Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Cultural strength to bend, not break

Culture is the set of key values, assumptions, understandings, and norms shared by group members (Yukl, 2006; Jackson & Parry, 2008; Daft, 2007). 

Deal & Kennedy defined culture as "The way we do things around here" (1982, p. 4).

Strong cultures are those that have a LOT of in-group alignment about the importance of specific values, ways of doing things, and group goal commitment.

However, strong cultures aren't always good. They can be so strong that they break rather than bend with change, limit diversity, unbalance members and, by limiting individual choice, can become a tool of manipulation, domination and oppression (Yukl, 2006; Jackson & Parry, 2008; Daft, 2007).

Not too long ago, I was illustrating strong cultures to a leadership class. The example I gave was of a friend of mine who was a member of a very strong clique of buddies right from primary school through into secondary school. That's more than twelve years of togetherness.

They travelled together, played together (all being rugby boys), and then finally, in senior high school, came to hold each other back. The culture of the group was so strong that no-one was allowed to be different, or to take a different path.

It had become a negative culture.

I was reflecting on this when a fellow leadership traveller (Butler, 2016) emailed the following:
We should always be aware of ‘I-knew-you-when-people’. When you let them define your world, they always make it smaller. They will try to keep you stuck at a stage in your life which is passed & gone. They will try to define you on the basis of who you were, not who you have become ~ & certainly not who you will someday be.

They will want you to linger with them in memory lane, & rob you of the momentum you need to soar. They will not permit you to embrace the future. Do not let them!

I feel we all have a duty to do something practical with our lives, even great. We may never reach perfection, but every day we have the chance to try & be better than the day before. We all need to move beyond the ‘good old days’. The past is past, it cannot be rewritten, it can only be replayed over & over.

The future lies before us like an uninhibited land waiting for the pioneers of destiny to explore it. So let us forge ahead & do so.
Wise words.

In that group that my friend was a part of, the fracture came when one group member moved to the other end of the country in order to - their word - 'escape' and to feel free enough to realise their own ambitions. The group splintered. They no longer see each other.

Enduring, strong cultures - in order to flex and change with the world around them - foster diversity, aid member balance, and allow individual choice.


  • Butler, Kenn (5 May 2016). Forge Ahead. Retrieved 5 May 2016 from
  • Daft, Richard L. (2007). The Leadership Experience (4th Edition). USA: Thomson South-Western.
  • Deal, Terrence E. & Kennedy, Allan A. (1982). Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life. UK: Penguin Books.
  • Jackson, B., & Parry K. (2008). A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about studying leadership. UK: Sage
  • Yukl, Gary (2006). Leadership in Organizations (6th edition). USA: Prentice Hall

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