Leadership or Culture: Which Comes First


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There’s a common saying out there that “culture eats strategy” for breakfast (or lunch). The idea being that company culture drives the way strategies are created. Totally makes sense.

What I struggle with is where leadership fits into this conversation. On one hand, the company’s leadership helps shape organizational culture. On the other hand, culture supports and develops leaders.

If leadership comes first, and leaders create the culture, is it okay when new leaders arrive and change the culture? For example, when Tim Cook became CEO of Apple after Steve Jobs passed away, the culture changed. I’m not here to argue whether the Apple culture was or is good, the point is…the culture changed.

Conversely, company cultures drive things like talent strategy. I’ve worked for organizations where developing and promoting employees from within was a top priority. And I’ve worked in other places, where hiring the best talent from outside was more important. So, culture has a direct impact on where leaders come from and how they connect to the company.

I don’t know that I have answers on this one. But I would love to hear what you think. Tell us in this completely unscientific one-question poll: what comes first – leadership or culture?


Thanks for taking the time to do this. I’ll share the results in a couple of weeks.

Organizations that are focused on building engaged workforces are looking at both their culture and their leadership. And it makes sense that these two things are very inter-related. But for those companies that have to choose between the two, which one do you focus on? If we had to choose between culture or strategy, the quote above would say focus on culture.

Many organizations are focused on hiring, engaging, and retaining talent. But they don’t have unlimited budgets and resources. I’m sure there are companies right now trying to figure out where they would get the most bang for the buck – develop leaders or invest in culture. What should we tell them?

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby on the University of Miami campus in Miami, FL

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