My last post brought a few insights and research on dealing with uncertainty. The post before that was built around Dan Gardner’s excellent new book, Future Babble. It drew parallels with one of his key themes (expert hedgehogs and foxes) by discussing management hedgehogs and leadership foxes.

A key difference from management hedgehog’s rigid planning and budgeting is how leadership foxes build much more flexible and rapidly changing team and organizational cultures. This is vital to dealing with uncertainty. 

In striving for certainty, management hedgehogs create a sterile and passionless culture. Their rigid strategies, budgets, and business plans are cold and lifeless. So, most people go through the motions, put in their time, and go home. In this environment, change and improvement programs have no spirit. These programs may build up some speed and even get off the ground — but they don’t soar.

Leadership foxes know that a strong “Focus and Context” is at the core of a vibrant culture (which we define as “the way we do things around here – especially when the boss isn’t around.”) It provides flexible direction and guides behavior. It energizes the heart, soul, and spirit of teams and organizations. Three interconnected questions are at the center of Focus and Context:

  • Where are we going (our vision or picture of our preferred future?)
  • What do we believe in (our principles or values?)
  • Why do we exist (our purpose or niche?)


Keys to Building a Strong Cultural Core with Focus and Context:

  • Evolution not Revolution – team or organizational immune systems are triggered by dramatic and radical change that dismisses past efforts. Effective leaders blend and build on past strengths/heritage with the changes needed for a more adaptive culture to capitalize on the uncertain and rapidly unfolding future.
  • Engage Their Heartsmanagement speaks to the head with goals, plans, and budgets. Leadership connects with the heart using emotive language, images, stories, metaphors, and experiential learning.
  • Simplify and Emotionalize – any more than five values is a laundry list and aren’t yet core values. Wordy and bureaucratic mission statements that include everything and everybody are boring and lifeless. Boil it down to a snappy phrase less than 10 words long.
  • Energize Your Vision, Values, and Purpose – after the senior management team has clearly defined these cultural core elements they work hard to engage, connect, and energize them throughout their organization. This is best done by face-to-face communication for heart-to-heart connections.
  • Make Central to Your People Decisions – core values are the last critical screens in all hiring and promotion decisions to make them truly the core of your culture. People who may be high performers but don’t live your core values are coached, moved, or let go. Formal and informal recognition clearly and publicly showcase your core values.
  • Revisit and Revitalize – once a year review your Focus and Context. They often stay relevant as the core of your culture for years. The annual process of revisiting and reviewing will revitalize and recommit everyone in your organization.


Further Resources on Focus and Context: