Corporate Culture is visible if you know what to look for . . .


Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. -Steve Jobs

Not too long ago a friend of mine asked how to tell a reputable plumber or tradesman from the “cowboy” fixit men (those who talk fast, do poor work, and never return to fix their messes) who seem to be everywhere here in London.  They all have websites and email, they all tout excellent references and talk convincingly.  Some even offer a free evaluation.  What makes this a difficult decision is that in many places in London people don’t really know their neighbours (lots of second homes and transient expatriates who come and go frequently), so getting a reference from someone you know is not that easy.

The way I see it, there is actually a very simple way to determine the reputable from the “flim-flam” man, and it’s based on the principle of “shadow of the leader“.  This is a key principle in our work in understanding corporate culture and its impact on the performance of an organisation.

Organisations are shadows of their leaders; that’s the good news and the bad news!

In general, the principle of “Shadow of the Leader” says that the behaviour of people within an organisation tends to be a shadow, or reflection, of the behaviour of the leaders at the top.  One of the best places to quickly understand this principle is to look at the big banks.  The cutthroat culture of RBS several years ago was a clear shadow of Fred Goodwin.  The “above the rules” behaviour at Barclays Bank concerning the Libor rate fixing scandal a direct reflection of Bob Diamond and those he surrounded himself with. Culture shows up in how people behave, how they treat customers and each other, and in their work habits.

Now, returning to my friend looking for a trustworthy and quality tradesman, we need look no further than the back of his van for a clue into the quality of the individual.  If you are looking for someone who takes pride in their work, who will treat your home with respect, who takes pride in their own equipment, who understands the importance of quality, then take a look at the back of his van.  A man’s van is a direct shadow of his work!

Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear a word you are saying.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The two van’s above show very clearly the principle of a visible corporate culture and the mindset (attitude) of the employee and his company.  Want to know which would be the most reputable and high work-ethic tradesman to hire?

Pretty obvious when you know what to look for.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Corporate Culture is visible if you know what to look for . . .

  1. mimijk says:

    It really is true John – the culture is visible from the top – in practice, not in verbiage. And therein is the dilemma for many professional service firms – the seduction of acquisitiveness can trump the intended ethos of the organization. I think it is so critical to gauge success based on more variables than just increasing revenue, and I fear that most companies diminish the relevance of those other factors over time.


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