How leadership can affect organizational culture

Culture can significantly impact an organization’s ability to perform effectively. Leaders can shape the organizational environment in both positive and negative ways. In the sports world, we often see examples of both positive (winning) and negative (losing, toxic cultures). As the NBA calendar flips to a new season with the start of free agency, let’s talk about the Los Angeles Lakers.

Throughout the past NBA season, the Lakers consistently made the daily sports headlines. However, this was rarely due to their product on the basketball court. It was mostly about their dysfunctional leadership.

Following a disappointing season, issues within the Lakers’ front office have aired out in epic fashion upon the resignation of President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson in May. A fiasco involving the attempted trade of their entire roster (besides Lebron James) prior to the trade deadline on February 7, 2019 and stories of berated employees revealed a toxic culture riddled with mistrust, intimidation and bullying.

The result? A fearful staff and a disgruntled team that lost 14 out their first 17 games post-trade deadline. So what does this tell us about leadership?

Culture can affect leadership just as much as leadership affects culture. Leaders are responsible for creating systems that develop organizational culture and reinforce workplace norms. Cultural norms in the workplace are adopted from the actions of the leader: where their attention is focused, how they react to crises and the behaviors they model1.

The abusive leadership within the Lakers organization established a culture that quickly became visible on and off the court. Studies on abusive leadership show an association with negative outcomes on both the individual and organizational level.

Exposure to abusive leadership is correlated with lower individual and group morale, psychological health and executive functioning. Abusive leadership in organizations is also linked to higher levels of counterproductive work behavior and quit rates in employees2.

“Magic” may have been his adopted name, but the former basketball great’s leadership style caused the opposite to happen for the organization’s culture — and it resulted in a loss far worse than any defeat on the court.

The same thing could happen to you — even if your organization has nothing to do with sports.

Key Takeaways:

  • Culture affects leadership just as much and leadership affects culture.
  • An organization’s culture is taught or reinforced by leaders and adopted by followers.
  • Abusive leadership can produce negative outcomes on both the individual and team level.

Do you work for a bully boss?

Photo Credit: Mike Clarens


1 BASS, B., & AVOLIO, B. (1993). TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP AND ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE. Public Administration Quarterly, 17(1), 112-121. Retrieved from

2 Tepper, B. J., Simon, L., & Park, H. (2017). Abusive Supervision. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior.


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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.