Should CEOs be ‘culture conformists’?

Leaders who are culture conformists are ineffective and create redundancies, according to a recent study

Should CEOs be ‘culture conformists’?

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology said that CEOs should have a different leadership style from that of the accepted company culture.

"Consistencies between CEO leadership and culture create redundancies," claimed Chad Hartnell, assistant professor in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University and lead study author. 

"Leaders who are culture conformists are thus ineffective. CEOs who lead in a manner different from the culture benefit companies because they provide resources to the organization organisation that the culture does not."

Hartnell said that there are usually two types of cultures in the workplace; task-oriented or relationship-oriented.

Task-oriented cultures, he said, mainly focus on external factors such as “anticipating customers’ needs and preferences and monitoring competitors’ behaviors”.

A relationship-oriented culture, meanwhile, focuses on internal factors such as coordination, participation, and communication.

A task-oriented leader would be effective in a relationship-based culture and vice-versa because they bring in a different perspective to what the culture is used to, he said.

He added that their findings showed that “CEO leadership is effective when it provides psychological and motivational resources lacking in the organisation’s culture [and] this will have a positive impact on firm performance”.

Hartnell cited Delta CEO Richard Anderson as an example.

"Under Anderson's leadership, Delta was able to capitalize on opportunities to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. Delta's relationship-focused culture enabled employees to integrate their efforts and execute on the organisation's strategic direction. Taken together, differences between CEO leadership and company culture position organisations for financial success," he told Science Daily.

However, Hartnell and his co-authors also found that the outcome was not always positive. 

Of the more than 400 CEOs and top management teams they studied, they found that organisations where the leader was deemed as confrontational or oppositional, employees tended to be resistant and resentful of their leadership style.

“A leader who challenges or discards every assumption about what has worked in the past creates uncertainty, ambiguity, and scepticism among the organisation's employees,” he said. 

“[CEOs] should adopt a leadership style that builds upon the positive aspects of the existing culture, contributing to the culture without undermining it."


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