Leaders Define Culture

We as humans, are born with the innate tendency to mimic or imitate. From the time humans are born, they learn to mimic those around them. That is how babies learn the language which is spoken in the environment in which they are brought up in the early years. It is common knowledge that in early years of childhood, boys tend to mimic the behavior of their father while girls start mimicking their mothers. As we start going to school, we start mimicking what others in our class do. The same trend continues through High School and College. As we move from early childhood to adolescent age to mid- teens and late- teens, the person or people we mimic changes, but the very process of mimicking does not undergo a change.


The fact is that human brain is wired to mimic the behavior and actions they consider significant or important. Sometimes it is conscious and many times it is sub conscious. For instance, the entire advertisement industry which relies on celebrities for endorsing products is based on this. It is not a conscious choice but nevertheless that is what works in our brains whether we are aware of the same or not. Whenever we consider somebody as “relevant other” we have a tendency to mimic that person often sub consciously. 

It does not end there. Emotions are contagious. We see somebody smiling, we tend to smile back. When we are in the middle of cheerful people, we tend to feel happy. When we are in the middle of people who are very serious and not looking at each other, we tend to do the same. 

Implications for leadership and culture of an organization are that people do mimic the leaders whom they observe, hear, experience on a day to day basis at workplace. Not just that, the emotions of the leader(s) is observed intently and can become contagious in the work environment. When the leaders themselves remain tensed and worked up, they end up creating an environment where everyone in the team is tensed and always on tenterhooks, because the emotions in the team would mirror that of the leader(s), which then becomes the culture of that workplace. In contrast, where the leader(s) remain calm and easy going even in the face of adversity, the team below also behave the same way and that work culture is very different from the previous one. 

If the leaders in an organization are always polite in their conversations, no matter how difficult the situation may be, it is very unlikely that people below them would use profanities in tough circumstances. On the other hand, if leaders are used to displaying their anger and frustrations quite liberally when the situation is tough, in all likelihood, that would be the all -pervasive culture in that organization. 

When leaders in an organization are good listeners and they practice the habit of first seeking to understand others’ point of view before making their views public, very rare would be the case where people down the line will not do so. On the contrary, if the leaders are known to cut people short mid-way through their sentence, that is exactly the culture that one would permeate the organization. 

The fundamental point is that people in an organization do sub consciously mimic their leaders much more than what the leaders would know – the leaders are continually under observation by the vast majority of their people. Hence, how they behave has a tremendous impact on the culture of the workplace far more than anything which may be written as tenets on the walls of any organization. Culture is nothing but the collective mindset and behavior of people in an organization and the behavior of the leader has a huge impact in determining what that would be.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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