Author Profile Picture

John Stein


Founder of The Winning Formula®

Read more from John Stein

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

How to identify an Architect or an Assassin in the workplace


John Stein identifies two crucial personality types that can help or hinder the workforce.

All leaders agree that success on their journey is achieved when they experience high levels of people engagement throughout the organisation. Engagement is an important stage on the journey. It describes ‘the buy-in and commitment’ demonstrated to the ambitious plans for the organisation. But it isn’t easy to achieve. 

Navigating the constantly changing landscape – involving the engagement of others – requires a more flexible, adaptable approach to leadership. Forward-thinking leaders have recognised this and are using the powerful influence of the Cultural Architect to support them and to direct, influence and inspire others in the workplace. This innovative approach to developing leadership capability offers enormous benefits including the effective management of the individual no organisation wishes to have on board on the journey – the Cultural Assassin. Learning and development professionals can play an important part identifying them.

The engagement battleground

Here are six key factors which impact on ‘buy-in and commitment’ from employees.

  • Job security with appropriate reward and recognition

  • Knowledge and skills required to carry out the job function

  • Good relationships with other colleagues including the manager

  • Direction on where the organisation is heading in the future

  • Participation in a stimulating work experience

  • Trust, respect and communication at all levels.

Address each of the six factors and high levels of engagement will be achieved. Underperformance on any of them will result in difficulties in the workplace. More importantly, the factors contribute to the development of a political and emotional battleground in the workplace involving two influential groups on the journey.

  • The Cultural Architects

  • The Cultural Assassins

Cultural Architects will support the plans for the organisation. Cultural Assassins can be obstructive. Everyone else is caught in the crossfire. The numbers in each group will fluctuate throughout the journey contributing towards the creation of an inconsistent performance dynamic. Successful navigation on the journey is achieved as a result of enlisting high numbers of Cultural Architects throughout the organisation. It is worth noting that revolutions are often started by minority groups. Cultural Architects and Assassins have the potential to start and lead one.

The Cultural Architect

Cultural Architects are ‘leaders without authority’. They are also referred to as informal leaders, champions, or advocates. They are outstanding individuals who influence, motivate and engage others on a daily basis. Their major drive is to excel on a personal level, do a good job and ensure that the organisation continues to succeed. Their role is critical to success on the journey.

Cultural Architects already exist and operate within the organisation. In many instances they don’t recognise themselves as such, but on a daily basis they go beyond their job description and the expectations of their line manager and informally lead and influence other colleagues.

They operate almost as a sub-culture within the organisation. Although they often remain unknown you will witness their contribution at meetings, forums and other company gatherings. Without realising it they quite naturally 'lead without authority' and demonstrate many of the qualities and behaviours important to effective leadership.

Leading by example, the Cultural Architect:

  • Often understands the need for change and uses this understanding to influence and lead others

  • Also understands the specific internal and external customer requirements of the organisation, particularly in the area of service

  • Takes clear positions with regards to the strategy for the organisation (they never sit on the fence), offering feedback to senior personnel

  • Focuses on ‘what needs to be done’ rather than ‘doing their best’

  • Manages their time effectively

  • Is successful, a doer, and someone who is personally proud of their contribution to the organisation

Beware of the Cultural Assassin

It is fair to say that not everyone in the organisation will share the leaders’ ambition for the organisation, particularly at the beginning of a journey when new plans are announced. A poor attitude to work, previous baggage from another company, or a lack of respect for the organisation and everything it stands for can result in the negative and destructive force of the Cultural Assassin.

Cultural Assassins operate in a minority. They:

  • Make excuses and blame others for their poor performance

  • Are unhappy with their work situation

  • Insist on sharing their unhappiness with others

  • Prefer to work to their own agenda

  • Are ‘going through the motions’.

Cultural Assassins can do a great deal of harm in the organisation, particularly those who develop a talent for complaining and sniping to others. Learning and development professionals are in a perfect position to identify Architects and Assassins. The learning environment offers numerous opportunities to observe the behaviours of others and to gauge the levels of buy-in and commitment to the journey and the organisation’s ambitious plans.

The Cultural Architect will typically demonstrate the following behaviours.

Ten behaviours of a Cultural Architect

  • Prepares personal input in advance of their attendance at development sessions
  • Takes every opportunity to ’talk up‘ and promote the benefits of participating on the journey
  • Develops effective relationships with other areas within the organisation
  • Offers positive suggestions and input linked to their own and other areas of the organisation
  • Understands the organisation’s future plans
  • Demonstrates positive cultural behaviours, e.g. openness, trust and integrity
  • Does not allow negative feedback, obstacles or setbacks to derail them from achieving their personal objectives
  • Celebrates success, however small, along the journey with colleagues
  • Is open minded to new ideas and is willing to learn and personally develop throughout the journey
  • Can easily demonstrate their personal contribution to the organisation’s success


The Cultural Architect is an important leadership role in the organisation, helping other leaders to navigate the landscape on the journey. They informally act as the eyes and ears of the organisation, offering feedback to each other and to the senior managers on how the organisation can meet the challenges ahead. They are instrumental in building trust, improving the communication grapevine and enlisting the support of others. The level of engagement enjoyed on the journey is directly linked to the number of Cultural Architects in the organisation. Remember, the role of the leader on the journey is not to generate more followers, but to create more leaders.

Leaders need the support of the Cultural Architect. Best wishes on your journey, wherever it may take you.

John Stein is the founder of the winning (formula)® and the author of the new leadership development parable Building the Pyramid

Author Profile Picture
John Stein

Founder of The Winning Formula®

Read more from John Stein

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!