Leadership and context
Leadership and context

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Leadership and context

5.1 Conceptualising organisational culture

Deal and Kennedy (1988) argue that culture is the most important factor accounting for success and failure of organisations. They identify four elements that shape a particular organisational culture: values; heroes and heroines (people who in some way embody and model those values); rites and rituals (which have symbolic qualities); and what they call the culture network (the informal communication system or hidden hierarchy of power in the organisation). Deal and Kennedy’s thinking here fits well with Schein, who provides the following general definition of organisational culture:

A pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.

(Schein, 2004, p. 17)

Bell and Kent, however, argue that we should ‘move away from the semantics of organisational culture and to explore more easily the concept of school culture through an analysis of the fragmented forces that help to shape the culture of an institution’ (2010, p. 8). They put forward an argument for engaging the wider community in the examination of institutional culture, because otherwise leaders may find it difficult to transform their institutions.

The importance of the concept of organisational culture as put forward by Deal and Kennedy (1988) allows us to argue that leaders have the capacity and opportunity to shape the ways that organisations work and the values they espouse. According to them, leaders may, to some extent, create and influence organisational culture and may also mediate subcultures within their organisations. At the same time, however, leaders also need to recognise and work with the historical aspects of culture highlighted by Schein (2004). A leader inherits an organisational culture that may have been created over many years. Equally the power to influence the culture of the organisation may not necessarily be vested in the positional leadership of the organisation. You may well know of organisations where particular individuals are able to exercise power and influence but who do not necessarily hold a leadership role in the organisation’s hierarchy (Bell and Kent, 2010). Analysing and understanding such complexities can make a difference to the leader’s role in creating and changing organisational culture. Where strategies are inconsistent with organisational culture, change and new initiatives are difficult to implement. On the other hand, where strategies are in line with it, change is very easy to implement.

Activity 6

You should now watch the video clip below, which is from India. Initially the societal culture is seen as dominant, but then the video points out ways in which school cultures are changing and are being changed. Watch the video and then return to the remainder of the activity below.

Download this video clip.Video player: Societal culture in India
Skip transcript: Societal culture in India

Transcript: Societal culture in India

So zero point three, three. The non-terminating recurring symbol. Example for what?
Rational numbers.
Rational numbers.
In India the style of school leadership is rooted in its culture. And based on values which date back centuries. School leaders tend to be autocratic and a more collegial approach to leadership has not yet taken root.
Traditionally the teacher and the principal are held in supreme awe and a lot of respect is given to them. And their decisions are taken as final. Generally the principal or the teacher is very highly regarded and held very, in very high esteem. So traditionally that’s how it is and even now it continues to be functioning in that manner. Accepting that there are, there have been a few changes because schools, the kind of schools that we have these days. Earlier the principal was a kind of remote person, not very accessible to either the teachers or to the children and the parents. But nowadays it’s changing so the principal is more a part of the school and tends to mingle with the, with the all the stakeholders, the parents, the children and the teachers. And there’s the necessity for a closer interaction between the principal and others.
While the societal culture has had a strong influence on the style of leadership in Indian schools, leadership styles are changing. And this is having an impact on how schools are run. In this private school in Bangalore the leadership has decided that instead of relying on rote learning teaching should be come more student focused. This is one example of how leadership can condition the way an organisation works.
When we come down to organisational culture obviously that’s qualitatively different because we’re talking about a much smaller group of people who are working together not just living but actually working together in an organisational setting. So we do separate out organisational culture from societal culture. Both in, in one sense are distinguishable groups of people. For example the, the group of people who work in a school are a distinguishable group of people from those who work in another school and we all know that schools, even within the, the same locality can have different cultures, organisational cultures.
But, but there are other differences too between organisation societal culture. Probably the most important one of which is that organisational cultures are much more susceptible to change so that the leader of a school is often responsible for changing or building a new school culture. Whereas you don’t talk about changing a societal culture in the same way unless, for example, you’re Chairman Mao who wants a revolution.
End transcript: Societal culture in India
Societal culture in India
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The clip provides an example of how one school is changing its learning culture. It is possible for a leader to instigate such a change usually supported by resources. Think of one recent change made in your own institution that was attempting to alter a fundamental characteristic of the way the institution worked. How successful was it? How was it supported?

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The school in the video was attempting to move away from rote learning towards a culture of more student-centred learning. It does not mention how the principal achieved this. It is possible that, in such an authoritarian culture, the teachers might just have been told; but it is also possible that there might have been training, additional computers, timetabling into a computer room, perhaps new software, meetings to discuss changes made and their success, meetings to discuss concerns and find solutions.


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