CEO as the tribal chief

Structure and strategy are controllable, and from there, cultural change is just a step away. MARCIA GRIFFIN

Marcia Griffin

By Marcia Griffin

One of the many interesting and eternal discussions around business is the question of the relative importance of strategy and culture.

At the recent TEC conference I attended, Michael Henderson presented some really interesting ideas relating to the importance and nature of culture.

His view is that culture has eight times more importance than strategy in achieving results.

A committed and enthusiastic team will achieve more than one with a great written strategy document and no commitment.

He related the role of the CEO to that of the tribal chief and suggested that tribes, like businesses, have their sets of beliefs and rituals and in fact these become the basis of culture.

His view was that you can’t manage people but you can manage structure and strategy. And once that is under control, the role of the CEO is to inspire people – in much the same way as the tribal chief does.

His definition of culture is summed up by the question; why it’s happening that way?

Michael outlined the mistakes that businesses make around culture

  • No understanding of the underlying culture.
  • Assume strategy is more important.
  • Assume they have only one culture.
  • Treat culture as a noun not a verb.
  • Have human resources not resourced humans.
  • Focus on company not personal values.
  • Measure culture ineffectively.

As Michael pointed out, strategy is the plan, culture is the reality.

The ability to align a smart strategy and committed people is very powerful – just like the strong tribes have great leaders who have committed people focused on a common goal.

Perhaps these ideas about culture are the reason many successful businesses recruit on the basis of personal values first – to ensure that those coming on board will be in alignment with the culture of the already existing tribe.

So purpose, identity and values are the being of a business. Capabilities, behaviour and environment are the doing.

The combination of these six determines the culture of the tribe. Business is effectively the western/contemporary version of the tribe.


To read more Marcia Griffin blogs, click here.

High Heeled Success is Marcia Griffin’s latest book, and is a frank account of building a business from a solitary sales person to a multi-million dollar business with 4700 sales consultants around Australia and New Zealand. It recounts successes and failures along the way and was written to inspire entrepreneurs-particularly women to triumph in business.

High Heeled Success (Kerr Publishing) is available directly from Marcia ( or Domain Books



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