Organizational culture, simply put, is “the way things get done around here.” The organization’s culture can help or hinder the success of the company. When you walk into a company, you can quickly identify some of the cultural elements based on what you see, how you are greeted, what you experience, traditions discussed, etc. The cultural elements of an organization are everywhere.
Who do you think is responsible for the culture of the company? Who sets the tone? Edgar Schein, author of Organizational Culture and Leadership, says leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin. The two are inter-related and co-exist. Culture creation and management are the essence of leadership. To be successful, Schein surmises, you must be a “learning leader.”
I love the characteristics Schein discusses on how leaders can influence culture. These characteristics are:
- Perception and Insight – a learning leader must have insight into the culture and the dysfunctional elements. These leaders must vulnerable to “not hold the answers” and develop the skill of “humble inquiry.”
- Motivation – the learning leader must be able to speak the truth when the culture is not right, put the organization far above their self-interest and hold steady to the change needed to get the culture back on track.
- Emotional Strength – a learning leader must create pyschologial safety, do what is needed to absorb anxiety and deal with the anger or criticism that often comes from employees challenging the new culture.
- Ability to Change the Cultural Assumptions – a learning leader needs to “sell” the new values and concepts AND create opportunities for these concepts to be visible by the organization’s employees.
- Ability to Create Involvement and Participation – my favorite of the characteristics is that a learning leader must be able to listen and involve employees in the process of discovery and change. Culture does not exist without people,so how could a leader be successful without involving people in the process?
When you look at an organization, toss a coin and see how it lands. Either side, culture or leadership, will tell you enough about the organization and whether you want to affiliate with it.