Leadership and the importance of context

Written by
Changeboard Team

08 Apr 2016

08 Apr 2016 • by Changeboard Team

The leader may often even be synonymous with the organisation, what it stands for and its ‘brand’ of course, such as Richard Branson or as ‘representing’ it and its public face. Therefore, leadership matters as the actions of leaders impact on employees, customers, investors and societies and it also institutionalises a particular organisational culture that can endure over time. So, leadership needs to be effective. With rigorous research, theorists who study and leaders who act, can help better understand how to sustain effective leadership.

What drives a leader?

The drivers of leadership thoughts and actions and being an effective leader can be seen as a mix of three factors, or the ‘3Cs’ of context, culture and competence. First, the context of philosophical views and approaches underlie and shape norms and patterns and hence leadership behaviours. These approaches include variations in time horizons, career orientation, reward expectations, relationships, and so on. what leaders need to do to make them successful is to respond to their country context, the philosophical context shaping how they think and act, so that their behaviours are consistent with the values and beliefs of the prevailing culture.

Second, an organisation’s culture often starts with its strategic challenges. For example, organisations competing on price need to build a culture of efficiency and cost containment. In contrast, organisations competing more on innovation need to build a culture of risk taking and experimentation. These then need to be reflected in, and consistent with, leadership and decisions. For leaders to be effective they also need to respond to their unique company culture, which creates expectations and norms of how they should act to help their company deliver business goals.

Third, a leader’s personal style, traits and predispositions are critical. Numerous studies about whether leaders are ‘born or bred’ examine what leaders do as being driven by their heritage versus their ability to learn. The studies often imply that leaders do have predispositions that influence how they think and act, yet also that leaders who learn can think and act differently if the consciously choose to do so. For leaders to be effective and successful they need to be aware of their own personal competencies about who they are, what they know and what they do.

Do you understand your own bias?

The result of these conclusions above have implications for leadership and its practice as well as human resource (HR) professionals. First, leaders need to recognise their own biases. Every leader consciously or unconsciously has biases about work. When these contextual, company and personal biases are codified and recognised, they can be better managed. Sometimes it is easy to do what comes naturally and at other times it is important to recognise that the situation requires leaders to do something else. Second, leaders need to recognise the setting in which they work. With this, leaders around the world can understand what they have to do be more effective and successful. Third, HR can add value to organisations and business. For example, by HR’s actions in the areas of building bias and cultural awareness, learning, etc, HR can show its worth to leaders who all too often have no-HR background and distain for the function.

By professor Chris Rowley