The great leadership question

First impressions

Have you had the experience of walking into a company’s offices and within a few minutes you tangibly feel the organisational climate around you?

Sometimes a positive feeling is triggered by an enthusiastic and competent receptionist and follow-up people we meet. Sometimes the feeling is one of a disjointed reception, of people motivated by conflicting and personal agendas that makes one feel unwanted and unwelcome. Subsequent dealings with that organisation can either strengthen or change first impressions, but it is not always easy to disregard first impressions of organisational culture and climate. I recall some visits to the head office of Discovery in the past and the pleasant climate of helpfulness that I found on those occasions.

 Organisational climate is felt

Organisational culture and climate is FELT.

It is a body language that strikes us, irrespective of the positive slogans and advertising that may flow from the walls inside the organisation. Some years ago I wrote an article about McDonalds and stated that they seem to have the ability to employ people who smile. In the world of fast food business, the ability to smile is an imperative of good service.

 What the experts say

Recently on the Leadership Platform Show on CliffCentral, Adriaan Groenewald discussed organisational culture and climate with top experts Prof. Theo Veldsman of University of Johannesburg, Dr. Brenda Hattingh, CEO of Centre for Power Intelligence and Ellis Mnyandu, CEO of Candid Media. Listen here

During the fruitful leadership discussion, Dr Brenda Hattingh spoke with passion of ‘a common core value’ approach to organisational climate and culture. She explained that it can make a dramatic impact over a short period as opposed to the expectation that organisational culture change normally takes years rather than months. Various other quality concepts were discussed on the Show.

 Sifting the best approach

Good leadership is driven by various attributes, amongst which are:

(a) the ability to drill down to essences of situations, (b) the ability to see the big picture (contextual relevance) and    (c) the ability to generate situational confidence.

To raise a vision of a common core value is an indication of a special kind of leadership that moves the world. Dr. Hattingh mentioned the fine example of a common core value that Nelson Mandela manifested, as expressed by his belief statement: ‘Who are you not to shine?’ That belief simply brings out the best in us, not so?

An example of a common core value that may be given in business is the well-known slogan of FNB: ‘How can I help you?’ This slogan is over and above other values that the bank ascribes to. The degree to which the bank successfully applies the common core value will depend on how it is embraced in the organisation and how accountability is fostered and measured against the core value.

 Why a common core value?

  1. Experience and common sense tells us that the more values an organisation claims to follow the less successful they are in embracing them in reality. In practice, under pressure people tend to default to personal negative and positive beliefs.
  2. A common core value that is expressed in a question form can exert immense power to transform behaviour. ‘How can I help you?’ is a good example on condition of course that it is embraced by staff.
  3. The common core value should be designed in such a way as to be simple, and to satisfy all imperatives of human and organisational behaviour. This is not as difficult as it may sound.

 A personal example by the Old Man

The Old Man has adopted a simple core value that has changed his life: ‘How can I help move the situation in a positive direction?’

Each word in this question has an important essence meaning:

How can I? It becomes a personal quest. As we know, good leadership is personal! The question also communicates the concept that it is up to me to choose, not to be forced.

Help – has a direct connotation of service and caring.

Move – movement is the essence of all performance and leadership.

The situation – implies all situations. It is a mind-set approach.

In a positive direction – implies values driven by integrity, honesty, good aspirations and accountability. We do not want to help situations move in a negative direction, do we?

  1. The simplicity of the common core value question should not be underestimated in its power to unite and motivate organisations! It has the power to simplify and focus each and every action of all employees on a moment by moment basis.
  2. The success of such an approach will be determined by how the organisation measures and rewards behaviour that is in conformity with the common value. Of corresponding importance in application is the manner in which the organisation consistently disciplines actions that is not in conformity with the common core value.
  3. On a personal basis, the application of the big question approach has often generated a sharp self-evaluation reaction on the part of the Old Man that helps him to improve his behaviour all the time.

 Organisational culture CAN be changed and sustained by the top down application of a common core value question implementation

For more on what we do to empower individual leaders, teams and organisations – read here

Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.





Louis has been fanatically endeavoring to uncover universal leadership principles and models for longer than most of us have been alive. He is an author, leadership expert, father, grandfather, and the Co-Founder of Leadership Platform.

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

Follow Us

Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


By subscribing you will be updated with the latest insights and news from us. We never spam.