Do Leaders Create a Great Company Culture -- or Vice Versa?

Leadership and culture are two words I hear often when I talk with CIOs. But it's a bit like the chicken-and-egg question: Which came first? Which one fostered the other?

Does a great leader create a culture that people want to be a part of, or is it the culture that develops great leaders? That might make an interesting late-night discussion over a few beers, but I suspect it's probably a bit of both. A dynamic leader will create a culture that draws in high-quality people, and over time, that culture becomes a breeding ground for future leaders.

One of the better talks I've heard lately on this topic was by Wayne Shurts, executive vice president and CTO at Sysco, during our CIO Perspectives Atlanta event in early March. Shurts is striving to make Sysco's IT group a cool place to work in the talent-hungry Houston market. As the IT chief of a Fortune 500 food-distribution company, he's up against some stiff competition from big energy companies with their cutting-edge technologies and higher IT pay.

But this CTO doesn't buy the notion that bigger means better. He believes that leadership can transform Sysco IT into a culture that attracts top local talent. "We stay close, so we know what the business needs, but it's really about becoming proactive," he said. "We're going in with ideas for stuff [that our business colleagues] haven't even talked about yet. We're constantly challenging ourselves."

When I think of the traits that make the best leaders, I think of humility, character, humor, honesty, passion and communication, to name just a few. And then I think of IDG's founder and Chairman Patrick J. McGovern, whose death on March 19 deprives the international business world of one of its great pioneers and leaders. (IDG is CIO's parent company.)

I worked for a competitor for seven years before joining IDG, and like everyone in tech publishing, I respected and admired Mr. McGovern. Once I joined his company in 2007, I saw why the IDG culture was so highly regarded, and why there are so many 20- and 30-year veterans among the newcomers like myself.

The man affectionately called "Uncle Pat" by his employees established a culture and a set of leadership values 50 years ago that have endured to this day. In this case, I'd say the leadership fostered the culture, but now the two are completely intertwined. That's exactly the kind of legacy every leader should aspire to leave behind.

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Read more about leadership/management in CIO's Leadership/Management Drilldown.

This story, "Do Leaders Create a Great Company Culture -- or Vice Versa?" was originally published by CIO.

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