Leadership is the single most important thing an organisation can get right. But while organisational leadership is the most spoken about concept in the business world, it’s also the most misunderstood.


“What no one is formally taught is the crucial part role modelling plays in organisational leadership,” Natalie Maroun, managing director for LRMG, a leading performance agency, points out. When an employee displays great leadership skills and can tactically organise resources towards a particular outcome, they are very likely to be seen and promoted into a leadership position. They are not, however, made to understand how their assumptions, beliefs and values impact on their own behaviour and their resulting ability to successfully lead an organisation.

Historically, leaders not only needed to be inspirational, motivational and visionary but they also needed to understand how to manage resources. Both are necessary as the first two building blocks of what constitutes being a good leader.

“A third dimension which often gets overlooked is the conscious need to role model the behaviour required within the workplace in order for the organisation to reach that vision.”

This touches on the Peter Principle – a management theory suggesting that organisations risk filling management roles with inappropriate people if they look purely at current performance as opposed to promoting on the desired skills and behavioural set already being demonstrated. “We see it often. People get promoted because they’re functionally competent, and not necessarily because they’re capable of leading or role modelling,” she remarks.

If leaders don’t model the required behaviour, one may find that employees will disengage when a leader’s actions don’t correlate with what they profess to believe in. Alternatively, they will simply start to mimic the behaviour of their leaders and this may impact negatively on the business as a whole.

Either way role modelling plays a very powerful part in informing organisational culture. Ignoring it can result in a default culture.

That’s why there needs to be a greater consciousness around the role of leadership. “Where you have healthy functional leaders who give a clear directive, who on a daily basis help employees towards that directive, and who then display behaviour consistent with where the organisation intends to go, one cultivates an engaged workforce.

“The truth is people don’t stay with companies – they stay with leaders. And when people stay with leaders who they’re inspired by, who make sense to them and who are true to the values that the organisation has articulated, the workforce will give what’s called ‘discretionary or extra effort’. Discretionary effort, in turn, translates into a great customer experience and when customers have a great customer experience, they perceive value and tend to be loyal to the organisation. This, in turn, drives revenue, market share and profitability. And leadership is the front end of that entire system.”

It is important for organisations to ascertain from the start what type of leader it requires. Edgar Schein, one of the pioneers in thinking about corporate culture, says that once an organisation clearly articulates what values they expect from leaders, those leaders are better able to role model those values. There also needs to be a self-correct mechanism in place to keep the style of leadership alive and vibrant.

“When you get the leadership formula right, it’s clearly visible and absolutely brilliant. But since it’s not scientific, nobody has been able to construct a meaningful way of teaching leadership within a business. As a result, it most often gets outsourced to business schools or universities to address. As long as organisations outsource leadership development and regard it as linear and one dimensional, it will never translate into value for business. Only when it’s understood as a dynamic part of the system, is there a chance of really making leadership work,” Maroun states.