How Culture Matters

Posted in Management

I really like this quote from Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar Schein, courtesy of this article from Stratechery contrasting cultures from familiar tech companies:

If one wishes to distinguish leadership from management or administration, one can argue that leadership creates and changes cultures, while management and administration act within a culture. By defining leadership in this manner, I am not implying that culture is easy to create or change, or that formal leaders are the only determiners of culture. On the contrary, as we will see, culture refers to those elements of a group or organization that are most stable and least malleable. Culture is the result of a complex group learning process that is only partially influenced by leader behavior. But if the group’s survival is threatened because elements of its culture have become maladapted, it is ultimately the function of leadership at all levels of the organization to recognize and do something about this situation. It is in this sense that leadership and culture are conceptually intertwined.

It gets at the core of the actual definition and importance of culture, and is applicable in any community or group setting (with the corporate setting being most discussed). It’s a framework that preempts our current conflation of culture as an exclusionary mechanism, saddled with connotations of classism and sexism and most other types of discrimination and easily ridiculed.

The astute point in the above quote is that it takes real leadership to shift culture, whether for human or business reasons. Both concepts are amorphous and hard to nail down, but finding a working relationship between the two is strangely satisfying.