What is missing in Leadership Development?

By Bryan Adkins Ed.D., CEO, Denison Consulting

There is an abundance of Executive Programs, certifications, leadership assessments and other mechanisms designed to help leaders improve their personal impact in organizations. Leaders get characterized as transformative, servant, charismatic, autocratic, participative…the list goes on. Are you more task-oriented or people-oriented? A creator or an implementer?  As a leader in today’s organizations, any personal insight is of value. However, one topic has risen to the top of the areas of concern for leaders, Board members and employees in general – CULTURE! The question: How does one know how well he or she is doing as a Culture Leader?

As the awareness of the impact of culture has grown, so too has the recognition that leaders are not just influential or even responsible for culture – today they are accountable for the culture.

Dan Denison asserted over two decades ago that organizational culture had an impact on business performance. That research and the significance of those findings were pioneering at the time, with the term “culture” being used quite sparingly in business settings. Today the evidence linking culture and performance is profuse. As the awareness of the impact of culture has grown, so too has the recognition that leaders are not just influential or even responsible for culture – today they are accountable for the culture. When something fails in an organization, we have learned to look closely to determine whether it was a one-off incident or the result of a systemic condition. Leaders in organizations such as Uber, Wells Fargo, VW, the Weinstein Co. and many others have learned that when the system is to blame – they are held accountable.

Culture is about the system. Today it is commonplace to see terms such as “culture,” “engagement” and “climate” used interchangeably. As a firm, we have written at length about those differences. The Climate – what it feels like in the organization, is an outcome of the culture. Engagement – the extent to which an individual is passionate about the work and willing to give discretionary effort – is also a cultural outcome. As a leader, you have responsibility for connecting individuals to the work, for the feeling that exists in the work environment, AND the culture that drives those connections and feelings.


At Denison, we have a singular focus – helping organizations build high-performance cultures. Cultures that deliver financial performance, grow faster than their competitors produce high-quality products and services, attract and retain high-quality talent, innovate, manage risk and provide safe work environments. We do this by focusing on culture AND leadership. Leaders set direction, determine priorities, model and reinforce desired behaviors, and establish the habits and routines that become “the way we do things around here.”

Suddenly having a leadership 360 that looks at leadership
through the lens of culture is a unique and highly-relevant offering.

Early in our work… to create high-performance cultures… we developed a leadership 360 to support the culture assessment, consulting and coaching services we offer. For a period of time, we were one of many leadership 360’s in the marketplace. Today, there are still many options to choose from; however, the leadership landscape is changing. Leaders continue to have a wide range of responsibilities, but culture development and management has emerged as a leader’s greatest area of accountability. Suddenly having a leadership 360 that looks at leadership through the lens of culture is a unique and highly-relevant offering.

It has been said that culture eats strategy. We would agree. A workforce that lacks clarity, alignment and commitment to the strategy of the organization will struggle to execute. Today it is also safe to say that leadership eats culture. Leaders can talk about the desired culture and may even convince themselves that the culture they talk about is the culture that is experienced by the workforce, customers and other key stakeholders, day-in and day-out. But how can you, the leader and the organization be certain that is the case–and that behaviors and actions that are counter to the espoused culture are indeed one-off events and not a symptom of something more systemic?

Today it is also safe to say that leadership eats culture.

The Denison Culture Model of High Performance is recognized across the globe for the robust research linking specific cultural attributes to business performance. Our culture and leadership diagnostics create the bridge between the Model and the honest conversations that are required to drive real change for organizations and their leaders. By providing leaders and managers with an analysis of twelve leadership skills and practices that have the greatest impact on bottom-line organizational performance, the Denison Model and Leadership 360 allow you to put culture AND leadership front and center in your culture change activities. Linking leadership behaviors and practices to the culture elements that we know drive the collective performance of the organization should be a key component, if not the centerpiece, for leadership development in the
21st century.

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Learn more about the Denison Leadership 360 and
how to develop as a Culture Leader

About the 360


Leadership Eats Culture


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Private Equity
As a CEO of a private equity firm, you know that firms with a strong, vibrant culture perform better in a highly competitive marketplace. Denison can work with you to build effective culture in all of your portfolio firms. Our assessment tools enable you to capture a clear picture of your current state. Our consulting expertise supports you in making the changes necessary to achieve superior financial performance. It’s about how you work as a team, how your policies meet practice within the culture of the organization, how performance aligns with your investment criteria.
  • Delivers a consistent assessment of your portfolio companies
  • Gives you an unambiguous picture of the culture
  • Provides a disciplined process and measureable action plan for
  • Offers hands-on strategic consulting to address gaps and affirm best
practices currently being used by your portfolio companies
Our approach:
Financial Services
In the financial sector, you are active in a wide variety of client environments that need to support accountability and the highest ethical standards. The trust that your customer places in your organization is dependent upon the culture that your employees exhibit every day.

You need a clear understanding of how your culture and the people in your organization function within the midst of the complexities of the current financial institutional marketplace. The Denison Model can give you that clarity. From brokerage firms, to retail banking, to institutional banking to insurance, Denison has specific, measurable benchmarking that identifies the strengths and weaknesses of your organization. With this baseline diagnostic, our consulting team can support you to put in place action plans to sustain your high standards and see financial performance improvement.
The manufacturing environment is constantly being tasked with improvement in quality and delivery while maintaining the highest levels of safety. The Denison Model equips you to reach from the senior leadership team to the shop floor in a globally networked manufacturing environment to build a culture oriented to continuous improvement in these mission critical areas.

Through our consultancy services, we work with a broad cross-section of your technical and operational staff to align around the goal of producing the highest quality products in the world--on time and on budget.
Within the healthcare market, high performance is measured primarily in patient outcomes. The marriage of the institution with doctors, support staff and operational teams is key to achieving best-in-class patient outcomes. Denison works with you to achieve these outcomes by building a culture that is tuned to the unique ecosystem of support that patients require.

Our organizational culture assessment based on the Denison Model is a proven approach that has supported healthcare providers with actionable feedback for decades. Against four core drivers of cultural high performance, the assessment identifies what is going well and clarifies challenges you may be facing. Then our consulting team is able to support you in addressing these challenges with action plans tailored to your inclusive and diverse environment.
Case Study
The management of culture in an organization whose members are always on the move.
At Denison, student outcomes are well understood as the goal of every educational organization. Our consulting expertise and diagnostic tools allow your team to more fully understand, articulate and implement your mission. You will gain a collective understanding of your organization’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges benchmarked against other peer institutions, all targeted toward providing students with the best learning environment.

Then, through Action Planning, we will work with you to improve your academic and operational excellence to support the diverse student learning environment of higher education, K-12 schools and related associations.
As a retailer, you know that culture drives the customer experience of your organization. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by your staff all make the difference in each interaction with a consumer. It's that experience that really drives what your behavior should be.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization can support the customer experience. We provide you data that helps you understand your organization all the way through checkout. And we provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address the challenges you face to attract and retain loyal brand customers and to ensure superior financial performance.
Smart restaurant owners know that the patron experience is driven by the culture of their organization. The hospitality, support, and follow-up lived out by your culinary and waitstaff all make the difference in each dish you serve. You know that it is the patron’s needs and expectations that really drive what your team’s behavior should be on the floor.

Denison allows you to understand how your organization is positioned to support the patron experience. We provide you benchmarked data from across the food industry that helps you understand your organization right to the final after-dinner mint. And we provide sustainable support programs that enable you to address the challenges you face to attract and retain loyal brand customers and to ensure superior financial performance.
To achieve high performance in a government initiative requires a different understanding of metrics of success. Typical financial results of business, like sales growth or ROI, are not the KPIs measured here. Rather it is advancement of the mission.

For example, Denison supports military men and women in action through our work with the Defense Logistics Agency (DOA). We provide core culture assessment and an improvement program that helps this department maintain a strong culture to fulfill their mission--addressing everything needed to support fighting men and women in combat through readiness preparation.
Case Study
A transformation that didn’t require thousands of dollars, but a new way of interacting.
Because of the ever-increasing pace in the introduction of new technology and shortening of technology life-cycle, having a culture fluent in adaptability is critical. These factors all drive the need to recoup costs and show profit more and more quickly. Being able to seamlessly change business models to drive market expansion, product acceptance and superior performance is absolutely critical in this high-potential return but volatile market. Talent is also at a premium.

Based on diagnostics structured through the Denison Model, our consultancy team will help you build a culture that knows who it is and who best will fit your organization. With this alignment, you gain a competitive edge in attracting and retaining the engineers, researchers and innovators you need to lead in introducing market-changing innovation.
Whether you deal with business travelers, tourists, or products in the supply chain, safety and schedule reliability are two of the key deliverables. For decades, Denison has worked with leaders in the transportation industry, helping transform organizations in the face of changing markets and technologies, to ensure consumer safety and satisfaction, as well as bottom-line business success.

When you bring Denison on board, our experienced consultants help you make decisions and plans based on data benchmarked against the global industry. We put your organization on the path to high performance, with measurable benefits to your bottom line.