Cultural Leadership: The Inspiration You Need to Lead a Successful Team

Leadership comes in many forms, and to some degree, it’s adaptive and dynamic. The only problem is that in the modern workplace, management has the overwhelming choice of selecting the right leadership option that relates to success across the business and employees. That’s no simple task.

However, one constant remains that should hold a considerable priority in terms of leadership: company culture. Companies build a culture in a variety of ways, but employing a new or more effective leadership style is among the most effective. If your management team is struggling with building a culture, your other management efforts can fall short—and with it—your team’s morale.

So what’s the next step? A forward-leaning approach toward cultural leadership could be the answer.

What Is Company Culture?

You can’t define cultural leadership without first defining company culture—also known as corporate culture or organizational culture. At its simplest, company culture is the way you get things done. It’s ubiquitous. It’s how management and employees interact. It’s how everyone comes together for a common goal. It’s the values, routines, subconscious behaviors, and norms that define your organization.

Whether your company has spent time creating a culture is irrelevant. Your company has a culture for better or worse, which means that putting a vested effort toward improving it is time well spent.

Even more importantly, a top-down effect is tantamount to success. That’s when cultural leadership becomes a crucial piece of the puzzle that’s too integral to ignore.

What Is Cultural Leadership?

A team looking to someone for cultural leadership.

In a traditional sense, cultural leadership is linked more to nonprofit organizations and communities. It’s part of a leadership practice that improves neighborhoods through mentoring, leadership development, and social justice.

Only recently has the same phrase come to the business world, yet it’s ill-defined in the sense of management and overall leadership. But for the sake of clarity, let’s define it here.

Cultural leadership is a leadership style that articulates a vision for the way things are done in a company. It creates core values, builds the actions around these values, and turns everything into a routine that’s practiced by everyone within the company.

Yet a manager well-versed in cultural leadership isn’t merely a figurehead. They lead by example, communicate readily with employees, and reinforce the cultural values that define the organization. To this end, actions speak louder than words—and cultural leaders know how to rally the troops.

Can Cultural Leadership Be Taught?

One of the more interesting arguments about cultural leadership is whether it’s innate or if it’s a leadership skill that can be developed. It’s polarizing and something that might actually vary from company to company.

If you’re trying to start a culture change within a company, bringing in creative leadership as an outside hire is an often-utilized strategy. Culture tends to stagnate with the same leaders, board members, or board of directors, and people mired in their ways have blinders in terms of leadership going further into the 21st century.

However, some would argue that the right leadership program can develop the abilities of cultural leadership. With the right training, managers become more aware of the actions and words that can promote a cultural organization, as well as the things that can stymie it.

The Tenets of Cultural Leadership

Board showcasing the tenets of leadership

One facet of cultural leadership is that it shares many of its tenets with other types of leadership styles. Instead of being a standalone leadership style, it’s an amalgamation of several types, such as:

  • Transactional leadership: Using a reward system to push employees in the right direction and reinforce good behavior and performance.
  • Situational leadership: Adapting leadership skills and ideas for different scenarios—whether during a time of crisis, expansion, or growth. This type of leadership also uses the idea that no single leadership style is superior to others—you simply adapt as you go.
  • Organizational leadership: Coordinating and directing individuals to reach a common goal via the vision and mission statements.


Beyond the blend of several types of leadership, cultural leadership necessitates an adaptable approach. That is to say—company culture can’t stagnate. What worked in the past isn’t necessarily what will work in the future.

As consumer behavior and economic factors shift, so does corporate culture. Therefore, cultural leadership must also change as a result. It’s not necessarily a drastic change, but the idea that fine-tuning and tweaking are a necessity at some point.

However, cultural leadership doesn’t merely mandate a change in company culture—it provides the motivation and inspiration to help employees embrace it. It’s sort of like the “be the change you want to see in the world” mantra, but within an organization. How you get there is entirely up to you and your organization, but understanding how to lead is tantamount to success.

Short-Term Changes for Long-Term Results

Managers and organizations can’t merely implement a new culture or use cultural leadership to bring about instantaneous change or improve upon their current culture. But that idea is certainly a fallacy to newer companies.

The idea is that all cultural changes require years of tweaking, learning, and different experience. It requires the acceptance that your company always has a culture and you simply can’t decide arbitrarily what that culture is.

Cultural leadership facilitates the process of building a company culture, but only through a long-running plan or short-term changes. In many companies, the original leadership defines the current culture, so even with a new, culture-first leader appointed, the leader can only improve culture as far as history allows them to.

If your goal is to change or improve company culture, the right personnel is needed. Beyond that, keep in mind that nothing will happen overnight. With short-term changes come long-term results, but only to those willing to wait.

The Benefits of a Cohesive Company Culture

Smiling team

So why should you put a premium on company culture through cultural leadership? Because company culture permeates every part of your organization from top to bottom. It’s the reason your employees want to get out of bed in the morning and one of the reasons your company is successful. Without a company culture, your company lacks identity and simply becomes another organization doing the same old thing.

Cultural leadership breeds company culture—that’s the entire idea of employing it across an organization. But when you put a priority on culture through leadership, you reap the benefits. It happens more quickly and is embedded more deeply into your staff.

So when you think about the difficulties of changing management styles, you only need to think about the plethora of results that come as a result.

Client Satisfaction

A strong company culture may seem counterintuitive to client satisfaction, but rest assured, they’re significantly intertwined. When your culture is strong, employees perform to the best of their abilities. Efficiency improves. Projects are completed on time and under budget. All of these combine to create an improved customer experience and increased satisfaction.

Since the happiness of the customer is vital to the profitability and survival of the business, culture must remain a priority as well. If this has been an issue in the past, transitioning to cultural leadership is always a strong consideration.

Secure Talent and Retention

No employee wants to fear getting out of bed in the morning to go to work. Fortunately, company culture can avert this disaster before it happens.

While the old-school approach to company culture may be a full-scale offering of employee benefits and wellness programs, not every company is equipped to handle that from a monetary perspective.

But that’s OK. Other aspects such as flexibility, autonomy, open communication, and feedback can all foster a solid corporate culture. As long as your employees want to come to work due to the culture, you’re building something special that will keep people coming back.

Clearly Defined Goals and Vision

Values and beliefs drive a company culture, but they also push people toward the overarching goal of your company. Clarity among employees drives production, encourages teamwork while keeping a division of labor, and creates goals and targets now and into the future.

With fresh perspective and defined goals, employees are more willing to work toward finishing a project, all without the threat of imminent burnout.

Don’t Try to Reinvent the Wheel

Cultural leadership isn’t reinventing the wheel in terms of ideology or an overhaul to an entire company. In some cases, it’s reviving the best elements that worked in the past. In other cases, it’s destroying the outdated or detrimental elements.

For newer companies, entrepreneurs, and startups, this can get even trickier. But again, you don’t need to have some game-changing epiphany. Companies trying to introduce culture at an early state should merely put employees and customers first and then arrange the framework around it.

It sounds easier than it is, but by putting the needs of employees above all else, loyalty, morale, engagement, and culture abound. And that’s just what cultural leadership is all about. Creating something that employees are excited about, that they look forward to, and that they want to be a part of. The only thing you’re doing is providing the glue to keep it all together.

Table of Contents:

Related posts


Subscribe for your remote team management free education series.

Five lessons and five tools delivered to your inbox for the next five weeks.
No Thanks