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Leaders Must Adapt to Differing Corporate Cultures and Differing Leadership Styles

by Bob McCulloch

Man gesturing with hands at business meeting

As the business landscape shifts, one of the questions that organizations can benefit from asking themselves is: “Should our leadership and management make an effort to be highly visible, or take a more behind-the-scenes position?” Certainly, the answer seems to be more rather than less visibility—with the caveat that to do so they must possess the interpersonal skills that this role requires.

In the Public Eye

A recent survey of 1,700 senior executives uncovered the need for chief executives to become more visible, both inside organizational walls and to the public at large. Eighty-one percent of respondents said that “CEO visibility” was critical to reputation.

But what if the leader is a bully? It might be wise to confine her or his “visibility” to direct reports!
That being said, when leaders have appropriate interpersonal skills, it is useful for them to be widely accessible, especially to communicate the strategic direction of the organization. Ultimately, it comes down to the personality of the leader and what the organization needs from him or her in terms of its corporate culture.

If the organization needs a visible leader (and likely, it does), it is up to that person to acquire the requisite skills—or step aside. In my experience at IBM, there were some senior leaders who came across as bullies and tyrants. One of these individuals demonstrated remarkable ability in his work; he was even very personally likeable if not charming, and at the same time, this person had an awesome temper!

At one point, he agreed to take on an assignment in New York and in the process received coaching and worked on essential interpersonal skills. Upon his return, and with modified self-control, he went on to become a well-regarded and respected president of IBM Canada. It was a positive move for him—and for the organization.

Developing Interpersonal Skill Sets

Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence, writes in Harvard Business Review:

Technical skills and self-mastery alone allow you to be an outstanding individual contributor. But to lead, you need an additional interpersonal skill set: you’ve got to listen, communicate, persuade, collaborate.

After all, leaders can hire those with technical skills, and then they need to inspire and guide them. That duty cannot be abdicated, and often it needs to be visibly completed. People need to see their leaders leading.

The question is ultimately one of culture and personality. Does the organizational culture require a visible leader, and does the leader have the interpersonal skills to deliver on that mandate? If the answer to the latter is, ‘No,’ then it becomes a question of whether he or she is willing to learn them in order to propel the organization forward.

Bob McCulloch

Bob McCulloch is a recognized authority in providing strategic guidance and executive coaching for tomorrow’s top business leaders. Employing a question-based approach and with over 40 years’ experience, he is able to build strong, trust-based relationships with senior-level executives who are looking to move the needle in their careers from good to great.



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