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Three Words: Culture, Culture, Culture Featured

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Three Words: Culture, Culture, Culture

Leaders have many important responsibilities in the exercising of their leadership practice – vision, decision-making, strategy, team building and PR immediately spring to mind; yet there is a ‘hidden’ responsibility that might just be the most important of all: company culture.


The term ‘culture’ has two sides: one being the ‘cross-cultural’ nature of things. The cultural diversity that is part of every leader’s portfolio whether they like it or not; the coming together of people of different cultural backgrounds, bonded by geography, generations or a shared world-view. The other side of ‘culture’ refers to ‘the way things are done around here’ – in other words, the way in which people within your organization behave. This is the ‘culture’ that we are talking about here.


Pieter Koerstenbaum’s organisational model suggests that culture is the leader’s primary focus. This makes total sense yet is seldom the reality. Most leaders focus on strategic formation and execution of strategy, a topic that forms a core part of any leadership development programme and is central to leadership education. Leaders are raised believing that strategy is their main focus and along with strategy comes vision. Of course strategy is important but research has shown that the majority of strategic initiatives fail to deliver on the intended outcomes. Research suggests that only between 10-30% of strategies are ‘successful’ which, given the investment that underpins most strategies, is a very poor return on investment! These are good strategies put together by smart people that raise the obvious question: how then does one account for the failure of these strategies?


From the various research conducted into this area, the biggest reason found for this delivery failure is that the company culture doesn’t support the changes envisaged and embedded in the strategy. In other words the people either unwilling or are unable to support the changes being implemented. The strategy might need to change but if the company culture doesn’t make the necessary changes, the strategy will fail.

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Keith Coats

Keith Coats

Keith Coats is an internationally respected leadership expert, author, speaker and facilitator. He has worked with both leaders and their executive teams in numerous international blue chip companies. He is the author of ‘Everything I know about leadership I learnt from the kids’ (Penguin) and his leadership articles have been published in a variety of local as well as international publications and journals. Keith has formally researched leading teams through organisational change and has experience in facilitating both strategic processes and mergers.


Keith is passionate about the international role and voice South Africa can play in leading diversity and has frequently been invited to share the ‘South African Story’ internationally. He has come to be regarded as one of South Africa’s more significant contributing voices on human development and leadership.


Keith is a sought after international keynote presenter in the area of strategic leadership in the new world of work. Keith brings a relaxed, conversational style to the podium where he presents cutting edge thinking to those present. Keith has been invited by HM King Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden to present at the Royal Palace, Stockholm to Swedish leaders from the corporate, political, non-profit and academic spheres as well as at the Global Leaders Conference in China. Keith is a regular presenter at conferences and business schools around the world, having presented and taught in diverse settings such as Russia, Sweden, the United States, China, Vietnam, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Namibia and South Africa. Keith uses multi-media as a key tool in his presentations to challenge shock and inspire audiences with his engaging content and delivery.


Keith’s primary focus is in the area of strategic leadership in the context of the new world of work. The need to develop adaptive intelligence – both a personally and corporately, is paramount to future success in both these spheres. In a changing world strategy – what it is, how to do it and what skills are required, needs to adapt and change. So too with leadership – and it is in these domains that Keith’s expertise and experience are to be found.


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