Two Sides of the Same Coin

Leadership and Culture are sides of the same coin. […]

Leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin. The organizational coin.

The sociologist Max Weber paid very close attention to how larger companies function, creating the term bureaucracy as a means of rational coordination of production and management activities structured around five aspects: the hierarchical system of authority; formal rules and procedures; clear division of work; impersonality; and formal selection.

Bureaucratic coordination, as a hallmark of the modern age, has organized activities according to rational principles, with offices continuing to be classified in a hierarchical order, their operations carried out using impersonal rules, top managers continuing to be governed by the methodical allocation of areas of responsibility and circumscribed spheres of duty, selecting and promoting employees based on specialized qualifications. This “ideal type” would be capable of performing on a large scale.

Such an absolute level of rationalization, very suited to the capitalist impetus, has also resulted in the depersonalization of professional relationships. “The performance of each individual worker is mathematically measured, each one becomes a small gear in the machine and, aware of this, the only concern is whether he can become a larger gear”. Similar to the phenomenon of the alienation on the work of Karl Marx, Weberian rationalization-bureaucratization also indicated a historically unprecedented process of domination by major companies. However, contrasting with the Marxist utopian vision in favor of the future emancipation of human beings in relation to work, Weber created the expression "iron cage" precisely to highlight that humanity would never rid itself of bureaucratic rational logic, so efficient and effective, but also cruel and oppressive.

In the context of the development of cultures, the Weberian perspective is particularly instrumental by distinguishing forms of the legitimacy of authority: traditional-sacred, legal rational and charismatic.  According to this vision, the impact of this change on the concept of authority in the modern age by the rational-legal has enlarged the space for the rationalization of functions and the actions.

Thus, hierarchical and functional borders of the organizations have been shaped throughout the time by a sociopolitical-semiotic process, since the leadership narrative also needs the rational-emotional-social support afforded by the t the hierarchical system of authority and by formal rules and procedures.

As I have already described, the Weberian authority can be traditional-sacred in nature (as occurs in the religious institutions, monarchies and even in family groups), rational-legal (common in the companies and governments) and charismatic (notably in political parties, but also in companies). Many psychologists have approached the force of this charisma in its archetypes of leadership and influence, in an interminable debate as to whether people are born with the trait or acquire it.

In the entrepreneurial context intended for developing culture, the leadership role is critical, and certainly exceeds the possibilities of charisma. It is clear that charismatic leaderships have a well-known capacity for mobilizing groups. Nevertheless, I will deal with the exercise of leadership from the rational-legal perspective, disregarding its entire impact on the semiotic group that expresses basic values, beliefs, norms and purpose of a social group.

In the initial stage of cultural formation, after early leaders have shared their own social repertoires, once the group has internalized and tried out this repertoire in practice, after leaders and subordinates have gotten it right or wrong in applying these principles, the group at last legitimizes a certain refined set of values, beliefs and thoughts as their own social references.

As culture takes shape like a political symbolic process in a permanent interactive dynamic of dispute, transformation and domination, in the event leaders are able to preserve their power, they will continue to influence culture. Throughout the process of cultural development, leaders assume a basic role in the use of primary and secondary mechanisms that can assure consistency in this evolution.

Leaders, whether consciously or not, use powerful mechanisms of cultural fixation.

- Focus of attention, measurement and control by leaders;

- Ways leaders react in face of crises and critical events;

- Natural behavior of leaders in different interactions with teams;

- Criteria adopted in defining acknowledgements and social status;

- Criteria adopted in selection, promotion, dismissal and retirement.

Moreover, leaders also use secondary articulation and reinforcement mechanisms:

- Organizational design.

- Internal policies and procedures.

- Physical environment.

- Set of legends and myths.

- Symbolic devices.

- Formal codes of corporate conduct.

.- Institutional manifestos.

Leaders are a reflection of their culture, and vice versa.


Daniel Augusto Motta, PhD, MSc

Founder & CEO BMI Blue Management Institute

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