Leadership & “Organizational Culture and Leadership”

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This blog post is my critique of the book “Organizational Culture and Leadership” by Schein (1985) from the standpoint of individual, group and enterprise leadership insights. Please note I’m reviewing the first edition.

Each critique reviews the key message of the book, the high-level concepts, the book’s areas of strengths, and where it falls short. I conclude each critique with an overall assessment ranking (1-10 ascending) of its effectiveness in providing the reader applicable lessons in personal and/or leadership development.

Overview: “Organizational Culture and Leadership” is an academic deep-dive on culture creation, culture maintenance and culture adaptation. Schein argues that the differentiator of leaders vs managers is the manipulation of culture. The book has three parts 1) What culture is 2) how it begins and 3) how it changes.

Key Message: Culture is a learned product of group experience. So, you must assess the group’s history, the leader’s style and the basic assumptions and beliefs shared by the group in order to manipulate it.

High-level concepts: Culture solves the group’s problem of 1) survival to the external environment and 2) integration of internal processes to ensure survival. The process of culture formation is in essence identical with the process of group formation, in that the very essence of groupness or group identity – shared patterns of thought, feelings, beliefs, and values – is ultimately what we end up calling the ‘culture’ of that group.

Areas of Strengths: I have yet to meet a better book that defines and slices the elements of culture the way that Schein has. In all of his books, he is easy to understand and a “down to the core” thinker.

Supplemental Materials: I recommend all of his books for Organizational Development practitioners and his articles at MIT: https://mitsloan.mit.edu/faculty/directory/edgar-h-schein

Where it Falls Short: Leadership is an afterthought in this book. I would not recommend this as a leadership development work, rather an assessment tool. There is only one chapter (10) that pays homage to the importance of leadership and one chapter (14) that provides a high level framework for leading a managed culture change. There are statements sprinkled throughout but he doesn’t provide the big bang execution framework needed to integrate “how to lead” in order to manipulate culture.

Overall Assessment & Why: I rate it an 8 out of 10. It provides one the ability to assess culture very well, with more limited insight into changing culture or leading culture change.

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