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Faculty Insights

Why It’s All Connected: Leadership, Culture, and Business Results

By Wisconsin School of Business

February 11, 2016

When I teach leadership or management programs there is often a moment when someone will ask, “What’s the difference between leadership and management?” I usually point out that this is a question without an answer, but with plenty of interesting opinions. I have always been fond of the opinion, “managers have followers assigned to them; leaders have followers who choose to follow.” But that’s just me.

Steve King
Steve King, Executive Director of the Center for Professional and Executive Development for the UW-Madison Wisconsin School of Business.

One of the goals of the Center for Professional and Executive Development (CPED) when we host programs at the Fluno Center on leadership or management is to help sort out opinions based on well-researched perspectives, evidence, and data. At a research university, it’s incumbent upon us to present the research. Research is empirical and substantiated, and therefore critical to holding an accurate view. Yet, it is inevitable that we’ll consider our own direct experiences and the direct experiences of others. A substantial number of opinions we form will be based on those experiences.
This balance between research and experience is particularly tricky when a program explores more complex topics. For instance, let’s consider this collection of questions: does good leadership impact business performance positively? Plenty of research and experience suggest yes. Does the good organizational culture impact business performance positively? Again, plenty of research and experience suggest yes. Now, questions begin to snowball: does good leadership influence a company’s culture? Does a company’s culture influence the quality of its leadership? Do great business results influence a company’s culture and the quality of it leaders? We think the answer to these last three questions is also yes, but when you start considering them simultaneously the level of certainty wanes.
Nevertheless, this collection of questions (and others like them) is precisely what many of our leadership and management program attendees want to explore. And why not? It is the reality they face day in and day out in their workplaces.
This particular relationship between leadership, culture, and business outcomes is the focus of a new program here at CPED, Leadership: Transform Your Business Culture (April 18-20; October 24-26). In this program, we take the research done by Human Synergistics on high-performing individuals and high-performing cultures and connect it with the neuroscience research done right here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus at Dr. Richard Davidson’s Center for Healthy Minds (recommended reading: Dr. Davidson’s The Emotional Life of Your Brain). The course attendees will bring their own rich set of experiences and opinions. These become the ingredients for an in-depth exploration of how these leaders can influence both culture and business outcomes through the adaption of new leadership and personal mastery techniques. Conversely, we explore how leaders can influence both their own and others’ leadership and business outcomes through the intentional development of an organizational culture. It will be a rich experience and I look forward to overseeing it personally.
Managers are assigned followers. Leaders have followers who choose to follow. I would bet (it’s important to bet, as I’ve written about) that followers who choose wisely select leaders who have successfully wrestled with and adjusted to the complex relationship between their leadership, their company’s culture, and their business results.
Learn more about Advanced Leadership and Management training at the Wisconsin School of Business.