The Leader’s Role in Building Culture and Strategy


Breakfast foods in a smiling faceIf management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things, then we must challenge ourselves as leaders to make sure we are focusing on the right things at the right time.

Two of the biggest functions of a top-level leader are:  (1) building the culture; and (2) developing the strategy for the organization. Both culture and strategy can emerge or they can be consciously created.    The most successful leaders and organizations consciously create both.

A question you might ask yourself is  “What is my contribution to the organization’s culture and strategy?”

To answer this, let’s first define some terms and distinguish the leader’s role in each. 

Culture is the personality of the organization — that set of norms, behaviors, and values that define how the company routinely operates.  Different from culture, climate is the individual leader’s impact on the organization.  The leader sets the tone, and great leaders are very conscious of the tone they are creating — day in and day out.  This requires constant vigilance…self-observation, solicitation of feedback, and monitoring one’s impact on others. Culture then becomes the sum of the leaders’ collective tones, behaviors, expectations, and values. To be a better leader, start by consciously choosing your tone and emphasizing a culture of excellence.

Strategy is a company’s formula for winning — an ever-changing game plan that requires consistent thought and attention and numerous iterations in terms of creating, articulating and communicating effectively within the organization. In larger organizations, building a strategy is often a highly collaborative process involving many players, including outside resources that can offer perspective and advice. The top-level leader makes the tough choices as to where to focus and apply the limited number of resources available. In smaller organizations, strategy falls more squarely on the shoulders of the top leader. This requires true discipline (which some say is the art of doing that which is unnatural) in order to keep strategy at top of mind as daily tactical priorities take their toll.

Regardless of the size of the organization, the leader must build the culture while balancing strategic and tactical priorities. Peter Drucker was quoted as saying “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” We like to say, “Eat culture for breakfast and strategy for lunch!” Great leaders feed their minds with meals rich in both culture and strategy, and they take actions to integrate both into their daily routines.

Would you like to learn more about building culture and strategy into your daily routine?  Join our consultants for an upcoming Strategic Insights webinar, May 28th Noon PDT/3pm EDT. To register, send an email to

For additional perspectives on culture and strategy, see our Twitter and Facebook page posts.

© Copyright Michele Parrish, 2015