The Impact of Leadership & Culture on Collective Decision-Making (part II)

Posted April 16th, 2019 in Culture & Leadership by Irving

(part one can be found here)

Part Two

The Impact of Culture on Leadership Decision-making


Dr. William (Bill) DeMarco, Ph.D.


Defining Culture


Leadership is more about ideas than time and place. “Culture”, like “leadership”, is a term of many countenances.  Not only does the word “culture” mean different things to different scholars and non-scholars alike; it is also often simplistically used as a catchall classification for a complex mélange of frequently changing, discreet yet defining elements of a society.

In 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhom, American anthropologists at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Cultural History and Anthropology, published a list of 160 definitions of culture.  By 1952, anthropologists on both sides of the Atlantic had already been studying culture for nearly a century.  For example, in 1872, a committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science prepared a list of seventy-six cultural topics deserving of anthropological field study.  It was based on the work of the British anthropologist Edward Tyler.  In 1937, the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University created a classification tool for what they called the Cross Cultural Survey.  Led by the American anthropologist, George Murdock, the Cross Cultural Survey led to the 1938 publication of the Outline of Cultural Materials, with seventy-nine major divisions and 637 subdivisions of cultural background information.  This process and work are still used today.

In more recent times, some scholars have applied the models and ideas of anthropologists, sociologists, behavioural psychologists and cultural historians to the field of organizational culture.  The work of Geert Hofstede, on what he describes as the five cultural dimensions – most notably “power distance” (Hofstede, 2001), and the Globe Study of sixty-two societies with nine cultural dimensions (House, Ed., 2004) add textured layers of information to discourse on the meaning of culture.  So does the work of Edgar Schein  (2004) and Daniel Denison (1990), both of whom try to unlock the meaning of a culture with the intent of aligning culture and leadership.  While Dennison created a link between certain corporate culture models and bottom line financial performance, Schein linked his work to more traditional areas of culture enquiry when he focused on the role of history, rituals, and symbols on culture.

Since the early twentieth century, many culture scholars have specialized their areas of enquiry.  For example, Columbia University’s Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead immediately come to mind when we think of early research on the role of religious practices, myths, language patterns, symbols, and gender/sexuality on culture.  Boas, considered by most to be the founder of modern anthropology, gave anthropology a rigorous scientific methodology, modeled after the natural sciences, where research is followed by generalizations, and not the other way around.  A tipping point occurred when Boas encouraged significant field research where scholars attempted to understand a culture from the inside looking out. In more recent times, the ethnographic studies of Clifford Geertz (1973) placed emphasis on the importance of “systems of meaning” (i.e. symbols) to culture.


 Different research approaches

In 1967, Kenneth Pike coined the terms emic and etic, the former referring to the inside out and the latter referring to the outside-in perspectives (Pike, 1967). For decades, researchers have focused on these two approaches as being mutually exclusive. In actuality, both the emic and etic perspectives have equally long pedigrees in the social sciences.  “The emic or inside perspective follows in the tradition of psychological studies of folk beliefs (Wundt, 1888) and in cultural anthropologists’ striving to understand culture from the ‘native point of view’ (Malinowski, 1922).  The etic or outside perspective follows in the tradition of behaviorist psychology (Skinner, 1938) and anthropological approaches that link cultural practices to external, antecedent factors, such as economic or ecological conditions (Harris, 1979), that may not be salient to cultural insiders “ (Morris, Leung, Ames, & Lickel, 1999: 781).

The question of who got it right is truly irrelevant here.  What is relevant is the recognition that all of us “see”, “know” and “imagine” based on the prisms through which we view the universe.  All too often, there is a tendency for culture scholars who use one or the other method to dismiss the alternate approach as lacking in some methodological or conceptual rigor. (Martin &Frost, 1996).  Debates over qualitative data v. quantitative techniques are the wrong discussion.  Given culture’s complexity, we need both.

Elements of both emic and etic approaches became part of the research protocols of the emerging academic discipline of sociology long before Kenneth Pike coined the terms.  In 1921 Park and Burgess and their colleagues at the First Chicago School of Sociology studied contemporary social problems in the city of Chicago. Their research demonstrated that the physical environment a society inhabited is a major factor in shaping human behaviour.  They also championed the use of oral histories and interview techniques, as well as recognized the importance of subcultures. This research serendipitously verified what indigenous societies worldwide have made an important part of their folklore for centuries:  physical environment is a key influencer on culture.  Apropos to this, it is worth mentioning that New Zealand, the last substantial land-mass in the world discovered and settled by humans other than Antarctica, focuses much of its cultural history on this very issue. (Prickett, 2001; Bellwood, 1978).

Culture scholars who focused their research on the culture of emigration/immigration frequently used both emic and etic approaches without stating it. (Anfiteatrof, 1973; DeMarco, 1981, 1882; Dinnerstein & Reimer, 1977; Handlin, 1973; Hansen, 1940; Howe, 1976; Hughes, 1943; Jones, 1960; Tomasi & Engel, 1970; Whyte, 1943). For example, William DeMarco, heeding the advice of C. Everett Hughes of the First and Second Chicago Schools of Sociology, studied official government records on housing, employment, and marriage patterns for Italian immigrants to Boston’s North End from 1880 to 1930. He also gained access to private company employment records.  He interviewed more than one hundred residents who immigrated to Boston during the period studied.  He also studied church marriage records partly because they specified where the married couples came from in Italy.  By using both emic and etic approaches, he discovered the degree to which old world cultures were replicated within the new environment over a fifty-year period.  This work demonstrated the enduring nature of centuries old cultural patterns within a new physical locale…change occurred but at a very slow pace.






I define culture as the sum of the history, folklore, and values that, taken together, make up the unique identity of a society at a given place and point in time (Image 1).





Culture’s Complexities

The study of culture is not an either/or paradigm; it is rather a sum game!  Researchers in the field of culture study have long argued about the merits of various approaches to research on the topic.  The reality is all approaches and all insights are required today if the complexities

of new global realities are to be understood, and mutually beneficial solutions are to be found in times of crisis/need.   Sarah Meharg and Alan Okros said it well when they wrote: “…there is a requirement to shift from the use of analysis tools to the understanding of culture concepts. Thus, the key is to understand ‘me’ and ‘here’ in order to understand ‘them’ and ‘there’.” (Meharg & Okros, 2008: 2)  This is akin to the ongoing need for a transparent outward focused cultural prism and a mirrored inward focused prism.  Without a common, conceptual framework about the meaning of culture, it becomes increasingly difficult if not impossible to simultaneously address the issue of how to build trust networks within and between the defence, diplomacy, development and commerce (3D plus C) communities within fractured states.


Culture’s Multi-dimensionality

All cultures are made up of individuals and societies with shared history, folklore and values.  Cultures are living organisms where the dynamic interplay of life impacts on and is impacted by it.  The centuries old interplay between human hunter-gatherer existence, and the relatively “recent invention” of agriculture is a good example of culture as a living organism (Nicholson, 2000).


We are also part of a variety of cultures, each with its own history, values and folklore. Given this, it is no overstatement to say cultures are complex and constantly in a state of change. The kind of change we are talking about is most often imperceptible, but it is always there because yesterday’s realities have become part of today’s history…yesterday’s experiences are part of today’s folklore…and the quality of yesterday’s decisions have become today’s updated value system.


It is important for us to first recognize that we are part of many cultures.  The first and most important is our primary culture: the “culture of self” that defines our uniqueness.  This is what the philosopher and Noble Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen calls our multi-dimensionality (Sen, 2005). This is also what Meharg and Okros referred to above as the key to understanding “me” and ‘here” in order to understand “them” and “there”.   We are also part of many different societies, each with its own culture.  We have our ethnic culture, family culture, religious culture, community culture, work culture, racial culture, etc. etc.  Some play a more prominent role than others.  For all their multiplicity and complexity, they generally share certain elements in common.  Our ability to build true trust networks is driven by our ability to find, understand, value and utilize these cultural commonalities.


Image 2 defines the history components of the culture definition.  Like other components of the model, it stresses the individual and collective uniqueness of the members of the culture. It also recognizes that both internal and external persons, events and institutions impact the society’s unique identity over a period of time.  Of particular interest here is the “Institutions” component.  Its definition has broad application, including the inclusion of the systems, structures, and formal/informal working relationships of governmental, quasi-governmental, social service, and religious agencies/institutions.  However, their symbols belong under “Folklore” and their value system belongs under “Values”.


Image 2. History component of DeMarco Culture Model

HISTORY The people, events and institutions that collectively impact a society’s unique identity.
People Individuals, both inside and outside the society, who impact its direction and values over a period of time.
Events Incidents both inside and outside a society that impact its direction and values over time.
Institutions Systems, structures, and formal/informal relationships that impact a society’s direction and values over time.

The Folklore component is where a culture’s stories live.  Stories have been an integral part of the human experience since the beginning of time.  Stories inspire, inform, and connect participants to what the society stands for.  They are rich cultural anthologies of high value as well as entertainment. They link the listener/observer to messages from the past, handed down from one generation to the next. We see this in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, as well as the sacred scriptures of the other religious traditions.  Some of these stories are symbols in the form of artistic expressions of all sorts.  In societies like the Maori in New Zealand, they even tell the creation story, providing not just an ancestral linkage but also a link to the divine. The great educator and lifetime student of the history of civilization, Will Durant, described a candidate for Folklore classification in the following manner: “The reader must not be shocked to learn that Socrates is half myth and only half a man. A learned Frenchman, M. Dupreel (in La Legende Socratique) has reduced the noble gadfly to the misty historical status of Achilles, Oedipus, Romulus, and Siegfried. …we may be certain that in good measure Socrates owes his fame as a philosopher to the creative imagination of Plato…How much of Plato’s Socrates was Socrates and how much of it was Plato, we shall probably never know. “ (Durant, 2002: 15).  All cultures have stories about individuals whose exploits are bigger than life.  We frequently have difficulty recognizing the demarcation line between truth and fiction.  In the Descartian world we live in, what is knowable/provable usually trumps folklore. Nonetheless, professionals in the defence, diplomacy, development and commerce communities would do well to enhance their understanding and appreciation of the heroes, myths, and symbols of the host culture.  This would likely contribute to authenticity, enhanced quality of dialogue and trust building


The noted historian, Peter Gay, could have as easily been writing about folklore as history when he described the work of Herodotus this way: “He included stories that were obviously mythic or epic in origin not because they were historically reliable, but because they signified how people felt and thought and were thus historically relevant.”(Gay, 1972:1 [2] ). The key word is relevance…relevance to cultures being studied.  One of the great challenges for western professionals trained in scientific methods of any and all sorts is to recognize the power of cultural relevance. The components of Folklore as describe in Image 3 can be of great help with this.

Image 3.  Folklore component of DeMarco Culture Model

FOLKLORE The body of knowledge/practice concerning what the society stands for, has been handed down from one generation to the next in oral/written traditions, and lives in the society’s heroes, myths, and symbols.
Heroes Individuals whose exploits are viewed as outstanding examples of what the society values most.
Myths Stories about people, events, or institutions, loosely based on reality, commonly given as examples of what the society values most or least
Symbols Visual, spoken, artistic, religious, and culinary manifestations that reflect a society’s essence.

Values are the unique blend of perceived beliefs, needs and attitudes that live in the behaviour of most members of a society.  Most culture models include values as integral to the definition.  What is unique here are the three subcategories.  Values in this model have everything to do with perception.  It is not dissimilar to the Peter Gay’s comment about history quoted earlier.  The issue is not one of truth; it is one of relevance.  Cultures see their reality through their own hierarchy of truth.  That hierarchy has three levels of reality:  (1) beliefs, which, for the most part, are immutable; (2) biases (called attitudes here) which have significant influence on individual/group behaviour; and (3) needs, which are requirements for survival/success.  In fractured states or natural disaster zones, peace making and trust building can only be achieved if the fundamental needs of a culture are first addressed.  An example would be a doomed initiative of creating a working civil society in an environment with inadequate potable water, food and shelter from the elements.  Beyond this, some cultures have ceremonial, religious, or symbolic needs which are so deep seated their absence would totally undermine any meaningful discourse concerning “giving purpose to collective effort and causing willing effort to be expended to achieve that purpose. “


The study of values should include the study of the history and folklore of the culture in question. The history and folklore of a culture are the outward manifestation of the inner value system. For example, if we want to know more about the beliefs of a society, look at the historical and mythological personages they lionize.  These “beliefs in action” can reveal the “say-do gap” (Cox & Rock, 1997), a litmus test that differentiates beliefs from attitudes. Far too many change agents make the mistake of expecting to make changes in a cultural belief system in a relatively short period of time.  Short of a truly transformational or life-altering event, beliefs are immutable.  Attitudes, on the other hand, are not so deep seated and may be more open to change.


Each society/culture’s values are truly unique because individuals and groups are unique. Having said this, it is important to keep in mind that the uniqueness of individuals and societies does not lie in the uniqueness of their parts; we share far more in common than not.  The uniqueness lies in the totality and interoperability of the history, folklore, and values, which, taken together, make up the unique identity of a society at a given place and point in time!  The challenge is to find the common ground where discourse between cultures can contribute to trust building.


Image 4.  Values component of DeMarco Culture Model


VALUES The unique blend of perceived beliefs, needs and attitudes that live in the behaviour of most members of the society.
Beliefs Ideas viewed as being true by most members of the society.
Needs Conditions or situations perceived by most members of the society as being required for survival/success.
Attitudes Predispositions of most members of a society that an idea has special merit.






Leadership is more about ideas than place. Its context is all about culture. Cultures are living organisms where the dynamic interplay of life impacts on and is impacted by it.  We are also part of a variety of cultures, each with its own history, values and folklore. Given this, it is no overstatement to say cultures are complex and constantly in a state of change. The kind of change we are talking about is most often imperceptible, but it is always there because yesterday’s realities have become part of today’s history…yesterday’s experiences are part of today’s folklore…and the quality of yesterday’s decisions have become today’s updated value system.


Individual and societal cultures see the world through prisms, which ideally are transparent looking out, and mirrored looking in. All cultures suffer from some form of opaqueness when we look through our prisms.  Culture is the sum of the history, folklore, and values that, taken together, make up the unique identity of a society at a given place and point in time.


The relatively new field of organizational culture can be particularly helpful in this activity because it comes out of the social science academic traditions; it attempts to find patterns of shared values to build trust relationship within rapidly changing and fast paced organizations.   Morris, Leung, Ames and Lickel described it this way when they wrote: “ In the study of cognition in organizations, and in social science more broadly, there are two longstanding approaches to understanding the role of culture: (1) the inside perspective of ethnographers, who strive to describe a particular culture in its own terms; and (2) the outside perspective of comparativist researchers  who attempt to describe differences across cultures in terms of a general, external standard.” (Morris, Leung, Ames, & Lickel, 1999: 781).  The study of organizational culture focuses on observed behaviours (language, customs, and traditions), shared vision and shared knowledge, metaphors and symbols, group norms and embedded skills. (Schein, 2004).


All of these give purpose to collective effort and cause willing effort to be expended to achieve that purpose.  Within organizational contexts, understanding the particulars of the culture becomes key to unlocking dialogue about what the company truly stands for and the rules of the road concerning what is necessary to operationalize collective effort. (DeMarco, 1984).  These are core elements of the Jacobs and Jaques definition of leadership, leadership being more about ideas than place, and the context being fundamentally about culture.  While some “visionary successes” have been catalogued as a result of the use of organizational culture methodologies (Basrick, 2000;Gerstner, 2002;Welch, 2001; Ulrich, Zenger & Smallwood, 1999), their analysis and their successes are limited to a short life cycle primarily because culture is a living organism.


The study of culture in its many guises has been a lifetime professional commitment of this author.  Work is already under way to create a field tool, which will link elements of the DeMarco Culture Model with a trust building scale.  This will be a “community engagement tool” which will help leaders “give purpose to collective effort and cause willing effort to be expended to achieve that purpose.”  This has relevance because there is a new emergent global culture that calls for new insights, new thinking, and a new ethos (van der Erve, 2008)


The study of culture is time consuming and challenging.  It is also one of society’s best hopes for finding common ground to engage in meaningful dialogue with fractured states and societies in crisis.  It is hoped that the ideas expressed in these pages will enhance trust building; the fundamental challenge faced by fractured societies within global leadership locales.




Amfitheatrof, E. (1973) Children of Columbus: an informal history of the Italians in the New World.  Boston: Little Brown.

Appadurai, A. (2003) Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy.  Unpublished Paper.   See:

Appadurai, A.  (2002) Globalization (edited volume). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Appadurai, A. (1996) Modernity at large: cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Argyris, C (1977) Double-loop learning in organizations, Harvard Business Review , 55 (5), 115-125.

Bailey, T.A. (1963) The American spirit: United States history as seen by contemporaries. Boston: D.C.Heath and Company.

Bass, B. M. (1990) Bass and Stogdill’s handbook of leadership. New York:

Free Press.

Bellwood, P. (1978) Man’s conquest of the pacific.  Auckland, NZ: Collins.

Benedict, R. (1934)  Patterns of culture.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Bhabha, H. (2004) The location of culture.  London: Routledge.

Bhutto, B. (2008) Reconciliation: Islam, democracy and the West. New York: Harper Collins Press.

Boas, F. (1920)  “Methods of Ethnology” in Race, language, and culture. Ed. Stocking, G. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bodley, J.H. (1994) Cultural anthropology: tribes, states and the global system.  New York: McGraw-Hill.

Braksick, L. (2000) Unlock behavior, unleash profits.  New York: McGraw-Hill.

Caesar, J. (1991) The Gallic Wars.  North Haven, CT:  Linnet Books

Chomsky, N. (2003) Hegemony or survival: America’s quest for global dominance.  New York: Metropolitan Books.

Combs, S.C. (2005)  The Dao of rhetoric. State University of New York Press.

Cox, M. & DeMarco, W.M. (2007) The praxis of values-based Leadership: aligning culture, community & capability.  CSL Leadership Review, 2 (1), 31-43.

Cox, M. & Rock, M. (1997) The seven pillars of visionary leadership.  Toronto: Dryden Harcourt Brace.

Daft, R.L. (1999)  Leadership theory and practice.  Fort Worth: Dryden Press.

DeMarco, W.M. (1981) Ethnics and enclaves. Ann Arbor: UMI Press.

DeMarco, W.M. (1982), Boston’s Italian enclave, 1880-1930, Rome: Studi Emigrazione.

DeMarco, W.M. (1984), Unlocking the meaning of  a century old multi-billion dollar corporation through culture analysis, First International Conference on Organization Symbolism and Corporate Culture. Lund, Sweden: University of Lund.

Denison, D.R, Haaland, S. and Goelzer, P. (2003) Corporate culture and organizational effectiveness: is Asia different from the rest of the world? Organizational Dynamics Vol. 33, No.1 p 98-109 2004.

Denison, D.R. (1990) Corporate culture and organizational effectiveness. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Denison, D.R. (1984) Bringing corporate culture to the bottom line. Organizational Dynamics, 13(2), 4-22.

Derber, C. (2002) People before profit. New York: Picador.

Diamond, J. (1999) Guns, germs and steel: the fates of human societies.  New York: W.W.Norton & Company.

Dinnerstein, L. & Reimers, D. (1977) Ethnic Americans.  New York: Columbia University Press.


Freeman, C. (2002) The closing of the western mind.  London: William Heinemann.


Friedman, T.L. (2005) The world is flat: a brief history of the twenty-first century. .  New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Friedman, T.L. (2002) Longitudes & attitudes.  New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Fukuyama, F. (2006) The end of history and the last man.  Toronto: Free Press.

Gay, P. & Cavanaugh, G. (1972) Historians at work: volume one.  New York: Harper & Row.

Geertz, C. (1973) The interpretation of cultures.  New York: Basic Books.

Gerstner, L. (2002) Who says elephants can’t dance?  New York: Harper Collins.

Handlin, O. (1973) The uprooted.  Boston: Little Brown.

Harris, M. (1979) Cultural materialism: the struggle for a science of culture. New York: Vintage.

Herodotus, (1922) The Persian wars.  London: Loeb Classical Library.

Hoffer, E. (1963) The ordeal of change. Titusville, NJ: Hopewell Publications.

Hoffer, E. (2002) The true believer: thoughts on the nature of mass movements.  Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers.

Hofstede, G. (2001) Culture’s consequences, comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Hofstede, G. (1993) Cultural constraints in management theories.  Academy of Management Executive, 7, 81-94.

Howe, I. (1976) World of our fathers: the journey of the east European Jews to America and the life they found and made.  New York: Touchstone.

Hughes, E.C. (1943) French Canada in transition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jacobs, T.O. & Jaques, E. (1990) Military executive leadership.  In K.E.Clark & M.B.Clarrk  (Eds.), Measures of Leadership.  West Orange, NJ: Leadership Library of America pp.281-295.

James, C. (2007) Cultural amnesia: necessary memories from history and the arts.  London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Johnson, P. (1991) The birth of the modern.  New York: Harper Collins.

Jones, M.A. (1960) American immigration.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. (2006) Whose freedom.  New York: Picador.

Maharg, S. & Okros, A. (2008) Intelligence analysis in culturally complex contexts. Ottawa: The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP), Technical Panel 6.

Malinowski, B. (1922). Argonauts of the western Pacific.  London: Routledge.

Martin, J. & Frost, P.  (1996) The organizational culture war games: a struggle for intellectual dominance. In Clegg, S. R., Hardy, C. & Nod, W.R. (Eds.), Handbook of Organizational Studies: 598-621.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Mead, M. (1971). Coming of age in Samoa.  New York: American Museum of Natural History.

Menzies, G. (2002) 1421: the year China discovered the world.  London: Bantam Books.

Merton, T. (1955) No man is an island.  Boston: Harcourt Brace.

Mignolo, W. (2008) The idea of Latin America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Morris, M., Leung, K., Ames, D., & Lickle, B. (1990) Views from inside and outside: integrating emic and etic insights about culture and justice judgment, Academy of Management Review 24 (4), 781-796.

Nicholson, N. (2000) Executive Instinct: managing the human animal in the information age.  New York: Crown Publishers.

Park, R. E. & Burgess, E.W. (1921) Introduction to the science of sociology. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Pasa, S. F. (2001) Leadership influence in a high power distance and collectivist culture.  Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 21(8), 414-426.

Pike, K.L. (1967).  Language in relation to a unified theory of the structure of human behavior.  The Hague: Mouton.

Plato, (2001). The republic. North Yorkshire:  Agora Publications.

Power, S. (2008) Chasing the flame. New York: Penguin Press.

Prickett, N. (2001)  Maori origins: from Asia to Aotearoa.  Auckland, NZ: David Bateman Ltd.

Romero, E. J. (2004) Latin American leadership: el patron & el lider moderno, Cross Cultural Management, 11(3), 25-37.

Said, E.W. (1993) Culture and imperialism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Said, E.W. (1979) Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.

Schein, E. (2004) Organizational culture and leadership, Third Edition. New York: Wiley Publishers

Sen, A. (2006) Commencement Address.  University of Massachusetts – Lowell.

Senge, P., (1990) The fifth discipline.  New York: Doubleday.

Shawcross, W. (2001) Deliver us from evil: peacekeepers, warlords, and a world of endless conflict.  New York: Simon & Schuster.

Skinner, B.F. (1938). The behaior of organisms: an experimental analysis.   Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Stewart, R. (2004) The places in between.  Orlando: A Harvest Original, Harcourt Inc.

Sumner, W.G., (1919).  War and other essays. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Szczesniak, K. (2004) Foregrounding, context and the use of rare words in writing. Unpublished Paper.  See:

Tomasi, S.M. & Engel, M.H. (1970) The Italian experience in the United States. New York: Center for Migration Studies.

Ulrich, D., Zenger, J. & Smallwood, N. (1999) Results-based leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

van der Erve, M. (2008) A new leadership ethos.  Antwerp: Erve Research.

Welch, J. (2001) Jack: straight from the gut.  New York: Warner Business Books

Whyte, W.F. (1943) Street corner society.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Winton, H.R. & Mets, D.R. (2000) Challenge of change: military institutions and new realities, 1918-1941.   Omaha: Bison Books.

Wundt, W. (1888). Uber ziel und wege der volkerpsychologie.  Philosphische Studien. 4.

Yukl, G. (2006) Leadership in organizations.  Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall.


Meaningful Reflection!

The Impact of Leadership & Culture on Collective Decision-Making

Posted December 26th, 2018 in Culture & Leadership by Dr. William (Bill} DeMarco

Defining Leadership

There are literally hundreds of definitions of leadership. For this paper, we will use a definition inspired by Jacobs and Jaques in 1990: leadership is giving purpose to collective effort while causing willing effort to achieve that purpose. This definition requires that leaders have both a vision, which Jacobs and Jaques called “purpose”, as well as an ability to inspire others to follow. Leadership can be for either good or ill.  It does not call for a leader who solves all challenges; instead, it calls for a shared perspective (collective/group effort) where followers enroll in the vision of the leader to the point of committing their willing effort. This can be viewed as similar to Thomistic philosophy, where free will is placed in service of a cause perceived to be more noble than “self”.

The nature of “giving purpose to collective effort” is more a function of ideas than a function of time and place (frequently referred to as “locales of leadership”). It calls for a dialogue between individuals and societies. It has been thus since the ancient Greek Academy. What has changed over the millennia is the size of the population that makes up the cohorts of this dialogue. If we subscribe to the notion of the uniqueness of each human being, the challenges faced by the leader in “giving purpose to collective effort” exponentially changes with the increase in cohort size. In the business world, this is frequently referred to as “span of control”.  Increased levels of complexity partially drive this challenge.  While the fundamental participants -i.e. individuals and societies – have not changed much, the nature of the dialogue has radically changed mostly due to the increased multiplicity and complexity of ideas represented by the enhanced size of the cohorts involved. In the modern context, ideas and interactions migrate from local to global villages and back again at hitherto unknown speeds. This becomes a collective cross-cultural relation where comparative rhetoric is impossible because there are no static entities to compare. This is in alignment with the Daoism “one world” view of reality, where an underlying stable reality does not exist because reality is always changing. As if all of this was not enough complexity, the twenty-first century phenomenon known as “social media” has brought complexity to new levels.

We frequently view the impact of globalism on society as a relatively recent phenomenon. Leaders, however, have valued the importance and impact of globalism since ancient times. Herodotus, frequently referred to as the “Father of History”, wrote at length about the impact of events and ideas on enquiry. In his introduction to the History of the Persian Wars (c.440B.C.), he wrote: “I endeavor …to preserve from decay the remembrance of what men have done, and to prevent the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and Barbarians from losing their due mead of glory…also to put on record what were the grounds of their feud, relying on my eyes, my judgment and my talent for enquiry.” Globalism in the fifth century B.C. was mostly brought about by the medium of foot travel. His histories came about from his dialogues and discourses throughout Asia Minor, Egypt, Thrace, the Aegean islands, Babylon, and the Scythian Islands north of the Black Sea. Engaging in dialogue about what he saw and heard, and engaging in discourse about their relevance, he presented stories about leaders giving purpose to collective effort and causing willing effort to be expended to achieve that purpose.

Nearly a century after Herodotus, Plato’s Republic was publicly read and studied at the Acropolis in Athens, but not until he traveled to Egypt and Italy. This is less a story of the importance of Athens and the Acropolis, though important it was! It is more a story of the importance of ideas. Plato understood the importance of ideas in the fostering of a new social order; a social order, which causes as much discourse and dialectic today as it did more than two thousand years ago.

Almost two hundred years after Plato’s Republic was read in the Athenian Acropolis, Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars was read in the Roman Forum. Again we have an example less about place than about ideas. Caesar viewed himself as the solution to what he describes as the weakening of the Roman Republic, sounding a bit like the current American political leadership scene. He seized on the theme of how Gaul threatened the Republic and he was the noble leader who could bring Rome back to its former glory.

In 2006, George Lakoff, writing about the battle for the American notion of freedom during the second George Bush administration, could have been describing ancient Greece or Rome when he wrote: “Ideas are not abstract things. They are components of action. They define ideals. They create norms of behavior. They characterize right and wrong, and accordingly change our understanding of the past and the present, our vision of the future and even the laws of the land. Ownership of the word means ownership of the idea that goes with the word, and with it, domination of the culture defined by the idea!” These words were a prescient call for meaningful reflections in Trumpian Times.

Herodotus, Plato, and Caesar were not writing about locales of place. All three understood the power of ideas. They were obsessed with “giving purpose to collective effort and inspiring willing effort to support that purpose”.

“Our World” Depends on our “Prism”

The Merriam Webster dictionary describes an “idea” as a “mental image or formulation of something seen or known or imagined”. It is this author’s contention that if the locales of leadership are more about ideas than place, then the foregrounding context for these locales of leadership are mostly about culture, for it is through culture’s prism that we see… we know… we imagine!

From the age of exploration in the West to the early twentieth century, discourses on the meaning of culture had more to do with the perceived differences between “native”, “aboriginal”, “barbarian”, or “primitive” societal behaviours and practices as compared to an ancient Greek rhetoric and Eurocentric assumptions of “being cultured”. Participants in this great quest for cultural meaning seemed to have been well intentioned, though bound by the respective prisms from which they viewed the opposite universe [more about this in Part Two].  Demonstrating this reality, while metaphorically speaking for leaders and members of nation-states, missionaries, explorers, and scholars of culture alike, U.S. President William McKinley (1897-1901) said the following as part of an 1898 newspaper interview, in answer to the question “why did the U.S. invade the Philippines” (during the Spanish American War): “…there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men, for whom Christ also died. ”. Well intentioned though President McKinley may have been, his “religious beliefs prism” as a devout Protestant did not allow him to recognize that Roman Catholics were Christians and that the “Filipinos” had been Roman Catholic for centuries!

McKinley’s comments are Kiplingesque in their recognition of the “White man’s burden”. They elevated the relationship of locales of leadership and their foregrounding context to nobility of purpose, in spite of the opaqueness of the prism in question. He failed to mention the importance of naval vessel refueling stations in Asian waters, most likely because it had little to do with nobility of purpose.

McKinley was certainly not alone! His comments were all part of culture as foregrounding context for an empire-building world; it was already famously described in 1869 by the English poet Matthew Arnold as contact with the best, which has been thought and said in the world. Arnold’s perception of the meaning of culture is an example of an “idea” as a “mental image or formulation of something seen or known or imagined”. The work/comments of Arnold, Kipling and McKinley all show leadership as a process of giving purpose to collective effort while inspiring willing effort to support that purpose.

Getting Past the “Clutter” to See the Culture

When we see “leadership in action”, it is all too easy to mistake the trees for the forest. It is very natural to mistake what is most obvious in the foreground for what is really going on because we see our universe through very complex cultural prisms. This is no less true of leaders at their moments of decision.

There are many examples of culture as foregrounding context. One such example has particular resonance in today’s lingering post 9-11 world. In 1898, William Sumner, a prominent and very popular anti-imperialist professor at Yale University, wrote: “The first principle of Mohammedanism is that we Christians are dogs and infidels, fit only to be enslaved or butchered by Moslems. It is a corollary that wherever Mohammedanism extends it carries, in the belief of its votaries, the highest blessings, and that the whole human race would be enormously elevated if Mohammedanism should supplant Christianity everywhere.” This seems to represent the current beliefs of the “votaries” of Osama bin Laden, ISIS, and Boko Haram as well.

Needless to say, Benazir Bhutto’s view of the principles of Islam (“Mohammedanism”), are quite different from such “votaries” because her prism allowed her to see the universe quite differently. Educated in arguably the finest universities in the United States and the United Kingdom, and ostensibly committed to lifetime learning (Senge, 1990). Benazir Bhutto, a devout Muslim and a child of Pakistan, was a woman uniquely positioned to see and appreciate both the foregrounding and backgrounding contexts of locales of leadership.

The prism through which we see all cultures is uniquely our own. We tend to use a prism which Chris Argyris would likely call a single loop –no need to test the “underlying assumptions” our outward view of the universe is based on; we know they are correct! On the other hand, we usually demand nothing short of a full double loop assessment of the observed culture: both the actions of others and our view of their underlying assumptions. (Argyris, 1977). While Argyris was describing learning in organizations, his model has wider application. All of us are bound by culture as a foregrounding context. To fully do justice to what we see when observing cultures, our respective prisms need to simultaneously be transparent looking out and mirrored looking in.

For all the opaqueness brought on by good intentions, the prisms of Arnold, Kipling, McKinley, and Sumner represent the former while Bhutto represents the latter. The study of culture is a lifetime learning experience. It is as Eric Hoffer described in 1963: “Learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves perfectly equipped to inherit a world that no longer exists. (Hoffer, 1963: 36)”.

Part Two (found here) will also contain references from this article.

Meaningful Reflections!

Dr. William (Bill) DeMarco


Cultural Values in Ethically Bankrupt Times

Posted October 24th, 2018 in Culture by Dr. William (Bill} DeMarco

Cultural Values in Ethically Bankrupt Times

As  I have frequently written in these pages, CULTURE is a living thing…being  the sum total of the history , values, and folklore of a society at a given point in time.  It impacts how we live, what we value, how we relate to one another, who our role models are, how and what we celebrate, what and how we eat…pray…and yes, even love.

Culture Model*

Copyright, Dr. William DeMarco, 1993


I would not be surprised in the least if it comes to you that we live in precarious times.  Institutions that have traditionally been bulwarks against dramatic and even unsettling change, have lost much of their lustre.  Current history* is creating a new set of values*, reflected in the folklore*  of modern times, all becoming part of the culture going forward.  Now that becomes a scary thought when we think of their impact on the future generations we are spawning.

The reality is that fear of change has always been thus!  The Stoics of ancient Roman times wrote frequently about it. For example, the second century Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius  wrote in his famous book of “Meditations”:

     ”Loss is nothing else but change, and  change is Nature’s                                                                   delight”

Not being able to see the future, we  naturally fear it; for we cannot control what we do not see.

Another example is found in the Four Gospels of the New (Christian) Testament of the Bible.  All four evangelists (Gospel authors) wrote about how the de facto ruling class of Pharisees feared the loss of power/status due to the teachings of Jesus Christ. He preached about another kingdom, and challenged the status quo  by teaching that the greatest commandment of all is to “Love God with all your heart”….”And Love your neighbor as yourself”…for “the poor will always be with us”…so “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick,  shelter the homeless”. In modern times this would most likely be called true “socialism”.

Christ also stated many times that He was the Son of God.  Talk about a radical departure from the values of the day, even though the Jewish people had been waiting for their Messiah (a perceived temporal leader) for centuries. As the Pharisees saw it, how could  a carpenter’s son from Nazareth challenge their interpretations of scripture and the divine; so they contrived to have him executed by the legal protocols of the day.

Here we have another example of fear of change and loss of  control.  Human beings have never handled change well, in spite of the fact that like death, it is a certainty that both change and death are in all of our futures. In spite of all today’s doom and gloom – sorry to be so maudlin- centuries of human history can also provide us with solace and comfort.

Herodotus, frequently referred to as the “Father of History”, wrote thousands of years ago that history is less about reality (i.e.facts) than about relevance.  His writings tried to inspire all future generations to think less about the “who”…the “what”…the “when” but more about the relevance of human realities

What comes to my mind immediately is what was life like for my grandparents and great grandparents, immigrants all living through the relevance of their realities, which happen to be quite similar to those of modern times. They experienced natural disasters, prejudice, tribalism,  greed and entitlement of class structure, ineffective political systems,  terrorism, and a sense of helplessness.

For all this , they believed in the existence of better angels.  They saw their lives as better than in the old world because they had dreams that they believed could become a reality: financial & educational opportunity, helping hands and big hearts of caring friends and agencies, labor unions, and inspiring and helpful social & religious institutions, just to name a few.

Their experiences were no worse than those of so many other “societies” or  sub-cultures, frequently referred to as hyphenates   (i.e.  –Canadians,  -Americans,                 -Asians,  -Africans, etc.). Of course, tribalism was present in all the miseries of these souls, frequently showing up in their attitudes* towards others, but the fortunate ones focused  far  more on the relevance to their lives at a far more granular level.  Sure, tribalism with its ‘blame game”was present, but food, shelter, housing, financial security, and how to relate to one another proved to be far more important in their daily lives.

It was as if they were channelling Seneca, the great first century stoic, when he wrote:

    “Associate with people who are likely to improve you.”


When fear of change and genuine disgust with the ethical bankruptcy of modern times gets you down, focus on the better angels of  more recent times who inspire you.  Read their biographies, video clips, anything you can get you hands on.  Here are a few to get started with: Members of your family, Family stories,  Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Benazir Bhutto, Tommy Douglas, Terry Fox, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, George Marshall, Anthony deMello, etc,, etc.

Here is another person to think about here.    He made a difference in his “moments of truth”.Thomas “Tip” O’Neil, the  Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980’s was a physical and political giant of a man.  He also was a man of the people,  as he expressed in an oft-repeated prescient statement::

                          “All politics is local” 

This became a clarion call for people of diverse political persuasions at the time.  Doesn’t get more relevant than that.

The bottom  line is that Tip O’Neil was genuinely inspiring. when it counted most.  Don’t think of political persuasion here.  What each of us need today to get past the craziness of modern times is to find our own better angels.  Each culture has countless sources of inspiration.  They are around us everywhere.

Meaningful Reflections!

Dr. Bill DeMarco

  • *Refer to other Blog posts on this website for articles on this and related topics.