Reflections and Thoughts by Dr. Peter Cheng

Co-Founder & Chief of Dialogue

This article is the last of a 9-part series by Dr. Peter Cheng that discusses the Who-ness and What-ness of A Real Leader who Shapes Culture and Drives Performance.


Culture is an influential set of forces that becomes the main source of corporate identity. It powerfully governs an organisation’s way of life and behaviour, guiding employees so that they know what to do and what not to do.

An organisation’s culture determines its strategy, goals and processes, which in turncontributes to its success. While some organisations are built on a performance-based culture, others aim to cultivate a coaching culture that is more nurturing. Still others opt for a service-excellence culture, which is usually the case in retail and F&B industries.

Ultimately, what steers the culture of an organisation is a set of shared core values that drives employees’ behaviours and motivation at work. According to Jim Collins, the bestselling author of Built to Last and Good to Great, core values are “the organisation’s essential and enduring tenets — a small set of timeless guiding principles that require no external justification; they have intrinsic value and importance to those inside the organisation.”

Real leaders shape culture by ensuring that shared values are communicated and cascaded to the entire workforce of the organisation. They facilitate opportunities for employees to realise what it really takes to live out the shared values, so that there is overall consistency in employee behaviour. The stronger the values are embraced by all members of the organisation, the more consistent the organisation behaves in its daily interactions with internal and external stakeholders. Real leaders champion the shared values and inspire their employees to demonstrate behaviours through exemplifying them.

Shared values are central to every function of an organisation

An organisation’s shared values underpin all its operations, processes and strategies. McKinsey’s 7S framework emphasises the centrality of shared values to the development of all other critical components of an organisation.

Executing strategic objectives can only occur when every component is anchored by shared values and in alignment with each other. Real leaders know how important it is to ensure all the other 6Ses are aligned with the organisation’s shared values. Are your organisational values central to all the 6Ses mentioned above? What elements in your organisation’s 6Ses need re-alignment with its shared values?

Communicating the shared values that shape culture

Research by leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner shows that the clearer employees are about both their personal and organisational values, the more committed they are to the organisation. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks captures such an understanding of the direct correlation between the clarity of values and employees’ commitment to the organisation when he says that “If people relate to the company they work for, if they form an emotional tie to it and buy into its dreams, they will pour their heart into making it better.”

Real leaders thus make every effort to clearly communicate their organisation’s shared values to their employees. They understand that any shared value that is not clearly defined and articulated will continue to remain intangible. As such, real leaders ensure that there is an explicit course of action fleshed out for every core value, and a set of operational guidelines for every member of the company. For example, when employees are told that they need to exercise integrity, they need to know that this means “We act with honesty,” and “We practise professional and ethical standards.” These accompanying behavioural statements make the shared values of the organisation explicit, ensuring that each employee does not interpret the same value differently based on their own experience and culture.

Accountability in upholding shared values

After an organisation’s core values and their associated behavioural statements are articulated, real leaders ensure there is a system of accountability for members to abide by these values. Real leaders are authentic and role model the shared values they expect their constituents to uphold. They also perform core value audits and include such assessments on the alignment of members’ behaviours to shared values in the organisation’s performance appraisal system.

General Electric was known to even release great performing employees who did not embrace its core values. Their justification was that their “value-less” performance would not be sustainable in the long in the run. Are you prepared to retrain members who do not adhere to shared organisational values, and to release those who continually resist alignment with these values in order to achieve sustainable outcomes?

Just as real leaders do not hesitate to take action against those who have derailed from the organisation’s shared values, they also identify members who actively embody them.

At PACE, awards are given out every month to employees who champion our core values of Passion, Authenticity, Challenge and Esprit de Corps. Such affirmation serves to reinforce our core values to every member on our team, so that everyone continues to play their part in upholding them.

Concluding thoughts

Real leaders shape culture and create shared meaning for every member of their organisation through articulating and communicating core values. Real leaders are role models and champions of their shared values. They are also facilitators who ensure that their employees embrace these shared values. When employees are misaligned with the values, real leaders do not hesitate to realign and retrain them. In the event that employees recalcitrantly derail from the organisation’s shared values, real leaders will release them. However, real leaders are also quick to recognise and affirm those who exemplify core values.

Shaping culture is one of the critical essentials of Real Leadership. Real leaders who practice all the 8 Essentials of Real Leadership will engage, inspire and transform others. The essence of WHO they are — their admirable Character, Conviction with Courage and Credibility —forms the basis of their leadership. These characteristics go hand-in-hand with WHAT they do as leaders: they demonstrate Competence, Create an Inclusive Environment and show Compassion for others. Distinguished from the rest of the pack by their “Who-ness” and “What-ness,” real leaders Shape the Culture of their organisations as they Drive Performance to attain organisational excellence.

Together, these 8 Essentials of Real Leadership are predictive of 27 positive outcomes on their constituents, as supported by our recent research which culminated in a white paper on The Impact of Real Leaders on Constituents. Among these outcomes are the constituents’ confidence in their leader, feeling challenged to be their best and feeling guided to achieve breakthroughs. It is thus crucial for leaders to continually evaluate how they fare in each of the 8 Essentials of Real Leadership as they engage, inspire and transform the people whom they are entrusted to lead.

Do email me personally at to find out how your organisation can build leaders who shape culture and practice the 8 Essentials of Real Leadership!


  • Cheng, L. and P. Cheng. (2012). Real Leaders: Championing Culture, Sustaining Performance Excellence. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish.
  • Collins, J. (1994).  Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Kouzes, J. and B. Posner. (2007). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Schultz, H. and D. J. Yang. (1999). Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. New York: Hyperion Books.
  • The McKinsey 7-S Framework. www.mindtools. com. N.p., 2017. Web. 20 Apr. 2017