Leadership and culture are said to be ever-enveloping paradigms informing each other. As one is expressed and the other is impacted in a looped cause and effect fashion. In fact, “Leadership drives culture. Culture drives leadership. They both drive performance.” Yet, when we take a closer look at the Human Synergistics’ CircumplexTM—a model describing three subsets of leadership behaviour and hence effectiveness—we see some polarising dichotomies as the edges of reason blur from one category to another.
These edges of reason are at the positions of the Perfectionistic/Achievement, Affiliative/Approval, and Avoidance/Oppositional styles—as each meets the other. Each of these dichotomies looks somewhat the same on face value. However, there are some subtle though revealing differences that further highlight clever distinctions we make in delivering leadership to impact culture.
Perfectionistic (-ve) / Achievement (+ve) Dichotomy
Both of these styles are motivated by achievement, yet one of these centres on the negative and unrealistic driving goals to the exclusion of shared reality whilst the other is about setting realistic “stretch” targets, always in healthy collaboration.
One sets the team up to fail because the goals are narrowly-defined and tend to move, a la ‘moving goal posts’. The other sets goals via consultation and collaboration—always believing in the intrinsic drive of the team to wish to achieve for the merits simply of achieving and self-actualising—the self-fulfilling prophesy.
One is too detail oriented and superordinated—it’s done to the individuals and team affected. The other is liberating because it encourages self-set goals—it’s done with the people affected.
Affiliative (-ve) / Approval (+ve) Dichotomy
Both of these styles are motivated by wanting to affiliate, yet they’re arranged in an opposed fashion. The affiliative leader sees the dynamics of the team, as well as individual needs, as paramount. The leader who requires by approval—i.e. the “people pleaser,” however, strives to subordinate individuals and the team to what they’re really thinking and saying around interpersonal relationships.
One encourages conflict if it will be used to engender friendship and cooperation. The other is fearful of conflict and puts on the face of political correctness and requires others to follow suit. One is interactive; the other retractive. One collaborates, the other accommodates.
Avoidance (-ve) / Oppositional (-ve) Dichotomy
Both of these negative styles are motivated by inaction to the prevailing cause. Together they’re called the “organisational handcuffs,” constraining the organisation, strangling life and growth from it. These, individually, are not always negative—at times they’re necessary.
Strangely, one is subordinated and scared whilst the other is superordinated and even aggressive. One lays low and gets out of the way, the other looks to highlight mistakes, but remains detached. Neither, for too long, is healthy.
Leadership Comment Generally…
Right action, wrong motivation or wrong action, right motivation… both motivations and actions (the ‘why’ and the ‘how’) need to be aligned so we get consistently positive results around impact and effectiveness. Leadership informs culture and culture leadership. Both revolve around a loosely formed law of cause and effect.
© S. J. Wickham, 2009.
Acknowledgement: Human Synergistics International “Leadership Impact” 11th Annual Conference (
 Shaun McCarthy, The Leadership Culture Performance Connection: Transforming Leadership and Culture: The State of the Nations – the Research Results Book 2009 (