Are culture and strategy interdependent, interrelated, or intertwined? Does anyone really know?

I often envision culture and strategy sitting in the marriage counsellors office, each extolling the need for each other, yet unable to come to terms with their rocky relationship. This is why I have such a massive admiration for good managers. I believe there is alchemy at play. I believe that true leadership is born from the managers ability to effortlessly engage people and achieve results.

Managers are responsible for the day-to-day success or failure of business strategy and culture. Whatever the C-suite invents, the management must deliver. Strategy does not often take culture into account. Culture does not have to care about strategy.

Now I could start spouting a bunch of leadership platitudes about the types of traits and innate qualities you need to exude to make all this work together. I could tell you that people leave bad managers (which is true). You could spend time examining the multitude of checklists that will tell you the difference between a leader and a boss. Or we could all collectively roll our eyes, and stop trying to be god-like leadership beings and focus on what it takes to manage people.

(Hint: it involves taking the time to understand and manage them – no leadership required)

My LinkedIn jobs page has 128 companies looking for “managers”, and 6 companies looking for a “leader”. Every company has at least one manager, and good managers know when to lead and when to follow. Good managers are good with people. It really is that simple.

I just looked at the first six LinkedIn ads and not a single one had a single requirement that said “must like people”. Hmmmm, am I wrong about this?

I think we should strive to find good People Managers – not leaders! What do People Managers do? They understand people. They understand what makes them different, what they need, what they want, what they like to do, and most importantly they understand what their people value.

People Managers know how to get the team targeted on a vision and working on tasks that achieve it. By understanding what makes each team member tick they know what to say, how to say it, and when to say it.

People Managers talk to people, like people, engage people. People Managers understand that each individual they manage has different values, different needs, different backgrounds, and unique personalities. They relate to people because they want to, and once they have built a relationship based on trust and respect, People Managers can delegate anything from tasks to authority with great success.

Why are People Managers successful? Because their teams like coming to work, they believe their boss likes them, and understands their needs. Some equate this to leadership, but leadership is different. Leadership is not a constant state. Leadership is a mantle that should be passed around the entire company depending on what task needs to be accomplished.

The new leadership mantra that has posts and pundits littered all over LinkedIn is a bit of a blight, in my opinion. Achieving this false level of leadership is like trying to achieve this perfect state of Zen. Employees are expecting their bosses to exude some kind of superhuman benevolence and use #jedimindtricks to make work magically happen while sugarplum fairies make all your dreams come true. Come on people! (Two exclamation marks in one article, now that’s passion people), Come on people! Love what you do, but take responsibility for making it happen. Stop expecting your manager to help you to #liveyourbestlife.

Expecting yourself, or your boss to achieve this constant state of leadership Zen, this perfect servant leadership dynamic is ridiculous. Sometimes work just has to get done, proverbial floors need to be swept, garbage cans emptied, spreadsheets populated. It is impossible for everyone to remain in a state of constant bliss at work. However, if you like the person you work for, the floor is much easier to sweep.

If you manage to get people to like coming to work, you will tap into their discretionary capacity. In other words, good people managers get people to deliver on the old school concept of going the extra mile.

Bad managers are not bad leaders or even bad managers. So let’s call them Task Managers instead. Task Managers are often focused only on the target, only on the task, only on the KPI, only on the deadline, only on the vision. They may say hello and ask how someone is doing in the lunchroom, but you can tell they don’t really care what the answer is.

Task managers do not focus on values, they communicate with everyone in the same way, and they have the same expectation that each person will deliver on the task. They believe that there is “no crying in baseball”, and by-extension there are “no feelings in business”. Now that expectation is actually not unreasonable, but it is short-sighted. People are not robots – they feel – they think – they need – they desire. Thus the world of leadership punditry thrives as poorly managed disciples seek pithy posts and pseudo-insights.

Let’s revisit the original question I posed:

Are culture and strategy interdependent, interrelated, or intertwined?

Culture is an intertwined mix of values.

Strategy is an interrelated road map to growth and innovation.

If you map the values of your organization you will enable your People Managers to realize your vision by successfully leveraging the interdependent relationship of strategy and culture.

If People Managers motivate , communicate, and mandate staff in a way that aligns with their values, then your strategic vision will be realized. Culture doesn’t eat strategy, it enables it. Culture and strategy don’t need a marriage counsellor, they need a people manager…