Tag Archive for Schein

Is Your Leadership By Design or By Default?

I was recently having coffee with the chairman of the board for my organization, in one of our regular meetings that helps us stay connected. As we were discussing our way through several topics that needed our attention, we sidetracked into a conversation about some intentional communication we were working on. In the context of this conversation, he shared a statement that one of his own coworkers often said: “You’re either living by default or by design.”

When I heard him make this statement, I immediately thought of a parallel truth that also applies to the practice of leadership, which is that your leadership likewise needs to be by design, not by default. Translated, this means that everything you do in your leadership ought to be done intentionally; if it is not, circumstances and other people will dictate what happens, and you will be left with having to reactively respond, rather than proactively leading and directing. You see, effective leadership needs to be intentional leadership, which is why it is a concept that has become a (very intentional) part of how I lead.

I have often said, when in a leadership role, that there is very little that I don’t do on purpose. In other words, most of what I do is on purpose or for a purpose. It may seem that this is an obvious statement, and in one way it is, in that it is a leadership principle that makes sense. However, it generally requires a much more intentional effort to be intentional than most would realize! The reason for this is that intentionality, or ‘intentionalness’ (a made-up word), needs to be woven into even the most minor and trivial things for it to be effective, which requires much more work than being intentional in major or obvious ways.

Edgar Schein explains this same idea in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010) when he talks about Primary Culture Embedding Mechanisms, which he lists as attention, reaction, allocation, example, rewards, and recruiting. It is interesting to note that none of these are actions, or embedding mechanisms, that happen randomly or by chance; rather they all must be actions that leaders intentionally take to embed cultural changes within an organization or environment. He goes on to emphasize the importance of the mechanism of attention, and says, “the most powerful mechanism that founders, leaders, managers, and parents have available for communicating what they believe in or care about is what they systematically pay attention to.” (p. 237) He then illustrates this further when says that “even casual remarks and questions that are consistently geared to a certain area can be as potent as formal control mechanisms and measurements.” (p. 237) The point that he makes is that the leader must be intentional about the way he conducts himself in front of and in interaction with his followers, even in the details of choices of words and comments.

It may be easier to identify and establish this characteristic in organizations as a whole than in individuals, because organizational culture tends to more easily be intentional and deliberate due to their complexity and size (like the greater deliberation it takes to turn a battleship as compared to a canoe). Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), says it this way: “Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures.” (pp. 417-418) In the same way, however, individuals can develop a more intentional way of thinking and acting by forcing themselves to think more slowly, deliberately, and orderly until it becomes more natural.

So if leaders are more effective when they are proactively intentional, then what does it look like in practice? It can be demonstrated by consciously asking yourself why something is done a certain way, and then thinking through or dialoguing options and ideas in order to make sure that what you are doing is for the right purpose and in the best way. It could involve making it safe for someone to make a mistake and allowing that person to fail so that he will learn and grow, and then stepping in to be a positive component of his or her growth process. Or perhaps it is choosing words that will be best understood in the organizational context and choosing to avoid words that would have a negative cultural connection in that same context (for example, in one organization in which I worked, I discovered that the word “debrief” caused much anxiety, which I could eliminate by using “review” or “talk through” instead). In the many decisions that you make every day, these and many other actions and words are simple (and often minor) communication and relationship practices that you as a leader can do – intentionally – that will enhance your leadership effectiveness.

 

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

 

Organizational Culture and Leadership, by Edgar Schein

Organizational Leadership, Schein, cover            The first time I had the opportunity to lead a school, I was young and enthusiastic, and embraced my new role with gusto. When I arrived, I hit the ground running, with lots of big plans and changes that I immediately began to implement. The problem, however, was that I had not taken the time to understand the history and culture of the school before I jumped in, and so I began to frustrate the people I was trying to lead as well as the parents I was trying to serve. Eventually, the frustration built to a point of conflict and reaction, and I was forced to stop and evaluate where I had gone wrong, and that is when I began to understand the importance of understanding organizational culture. That was also one of the most valuable lessons I took with me when I eventually took a job at another school.

The concept of organizational culture, and its importance and application to leadership, is what Edgar Schein addresses in Organizational Culture and Leadership. In this book, Schein provides a thorough description of culture and its components, including categories and levels of culture, subcultures, internal and external culture determinants, and cultural assumptions. He then addresses the issue (and challenge) of managing culture change, and provides case studies to illustrate the process. Much of what he shares was helpful for me in framing my understanding of organizational culture, but what was most useful for my particular leadership and way of thinking was the explanation of the three levels of culture (artifacts, beliefs and values, and underlying assumptions), as well as the practical tools for changing and embedding culture. They were understandable, and the examples and case studies provided throughout showed what the concepts look like in practice.

From my own experience, I have learned the value of understanding history and culture, and this has become a core attribute of my leadership practice. Schein’s book is a great resource for understanding organizational culture, and so I believe it is a useful text for leaders. If you haven’t learned this lesson yet, I would urge you to become intentional about understanding and applying it.

Schein, Edgar H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership, 4th Ed. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

You Need to Know Your Culture

When I first began teaching, I was young and inexperienced, but I was also enthusiastic and visionary. I had great dreams and optimistic ideas about how I was going to teach my subject and impact the lives of my students. But because of my inexperience, it was also easy for me to accept and embrace the culture in which I worked. There were others that knew so much more than me, from whom I wanted to learn, and because I was willing to listen and learn, I was also willing to blend with the culture they represented.

 

Over the next couple of years, though, I began to recognize that there was a battle of cultures taking place between three subgroups, and the resulting tension was causing conflict and turmoil. As I began to grow and mature as a teacher and as a leader, I began to incorporate intentional behaviors and choices in an effort to help influence the culture into what I believed was the best direction for the school. I experienced challenges, obstacles, and frustration, but I was not working in isolation, and over time I was blessed to observe positive change, resulting in a much stronger academic and spiritual culture. After several years, the culture had unified and transformed into a healthy – and growing – environment.

 

However, one of my personal crashes came when I left that environment to accept the leadership role of headmaster in another school. As I entered the new environment, I fully expected to simply transplant the wonderful culture I had just left into this new school, and then the new school would be just like the old one. I immediately tried to connect with students in the same way, and tried to implement the same ideas and principles in the same way. As you might expect, in a very short time and after several conflicts, I began to realize that I was in a different place with a different culture, and I had not been learning to operate within and manage that culture; rather, I was trying to impose cultural norms that didn’t fit. It was out of this experience that I learned that before I could shape culture in an organization, I first had to understand it.

 

This truth is addressed quite extensively by Edgar Schein in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010), in which he defines the culture of a group as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which 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” (p. 18). The reality is that every organization has developed its own culture, its own way of doing things, its own understanding of what matters to the organization and to the members of that organization. It is often imbedded in the environment, and in many ways is an unconscious thought process that drives behavior, as well as intentional choices of actions and words.

 

Therefore, before any leader can play an influential role in shaping, modifying, or changing that culture, he or she must first understand it. Schein reinforces this idea when he goes on to say, “The bottom line for leaders is that if they do not become conscious of the cultures in which they are imbedded, those cultures will manage them. Cultural understanding is desirable for all of us, but it is essential to leaders if they are to lead” (p. 22). Culture can be both functional and dysfunctional, but generally, if it is not intentionally managed, it is much more likely to become dysfunctional. It is therefore the responsibility of the leader to observe and understand the existing culture, identifying the positive and negative aspects and learning the core values that matter to the people involved. It is only after understanding, that the leader can take steps to shape the culture into one that is most healthy and productive for the organization. Essentially, you must know your culture before you can lead it well.

 

I learned this lesson the hard way, which resulted in conflict and failure from which I had to recover, which made my job of leadership more difficult than it should have been. But since then, in three other schools, I have been very careful to first take time to understand the culture in which I function. This time, in these situations, I have found that I have been able to connect with and relate to people much better, have been accepted much sooner, and have been more effectively able to win trust, which in turn has given me the credibility and respect to positively influence culture.

 

The lesson is simple: know your culture. Take the time to understand where you are, the history of your organization, the factors that have shaped and influenced its members, and the values that really matter. When you do, because you understand, you will be a better leader.

Be Intentional

I have often said, when in a leadership role, that there is very little that I don’t do on purpose. In other words, most of what I do is on purpose or for a purpose. It may seem that this is an obvious statement, and in one way it is, in that it is a leadership principle that makes sense. However, it generally requires a much more intentional effort to be intentional than most would realize! The reason for this is that intentionality, or ‘intentionalness’ (a made-up word), needs to be woven into even the most minor and trivial things for it to be effective, which requires much more work than being intentional in major or obvious ways.

Edgar Schein explains this same idea in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010) when he talks about Primary Culture Embedding Mechanisms, which he lists as attention, reaction, allocation, example, rewards, and recruiting. It is interesting to note that none of these are actions, or embedding mechanisms, that happen randomly or by chance; rather they all must be actions that leaders intentionally take to embed cultural changes within an organization or environment. He goes on to emphasize the importance of the mechanism of attention, and says, “the most powerful mechanism that founders, leaders, managers, and parents have available for communicating what they believe in or care about is what they systematically pay attention to.” (p. 237) He then illustrates this further when says that “even casual remarks and questions that are consistently geared to a certain area can be as potent as formal control mechanisms and measurements.” (p. 237) The point that he makes is that the leader must be intentional about the way he conducts himself in front of and in interaction with his followers, even in the details of choices of words and comments.

It may be easier to identify and establish this characteristic in organizations as a whole than in individuals, because organizational culture tends to more easily be intentional and deliberate due to their complexity and size (like the greater deliberation it takes to turn a battleship as compared to a canoe). Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), says it this way: “Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures.” (pp. 417-418) In the same way, however, individuals can develop a more intentional way of thinking and acting by forcing themselves to think more slowly, deliberately, and orderly until it becomes more natural.

So if leaders are more effective when they are proactively intentional, then what does it look like in practice? It can be demonstrated by consciously asking yourself why something is done a certain way, and then thinking through or dialoguing options and ideas in order to make sure that what you are doing is for the right purpose and in the best way. It could involve making it safe for someone to make a mistake and allowing that person to fail so that he will learn and grow, and then stepping in to be a positive component of his growth process. Or perhaps choosing words that will be best understood in the organizational context and choosing to avoid words that would have a negative cultural connection in that same context (for example, in one organization in which I worked, I discovered that the word “debrief” caused much anxiety, which I could eliminate by using “review” or “talk through” instead). In the many decisions that you make every day, these and many other actions and words are simple (and often minor) communication and relationship practices that you as a leader can do – intentionally – that will enhance your leadership effectiveness.

 

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

Do What Works

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results. Sometimes it seems this definition characterizes companies and organizations, because they will continue to do something even though it doesn’t work. Perhaps it is because it is tradition, or because it takes too much work to change, or even because the leadership doesn’t recognize that it doesn’t work, but they keep doing it.

Motorola is great example of this. In the late 80’s and early 90’s they were a leader in the analog phone business.   They were doing what worked at the time, but then something happened: digital technology was developed for cell phones, which completely changed the cell phone service industry. Analog phone technology would no longer be the technology that would drive cell phone production and use, but Motorola continued to invest in its analog technology, and as a result, ceased to be relevant in the cell phone business. They were no longer doing what worked, but continued to do it anyway.

Effectiveness depends on discovering what works and doing it. Often, it is at a micro-level within an organization that people figure this out. Schein describes it like this: “The general phenomenon of adapting the formal work process to the local situation and then normalizing the new process by teaching it to newcomers has been called ‘practical drift’ and is an important characteristic of all operator subcultures. It is the basic reason why sociologists who study how work is actually done in organizations always find sufficient variations from the formally designated procedures to talk of the ‘informal organization’ and to point out that without such innovative behavior on the part of the employees, the organization might not be as effective” (2010, p. 60). In simple words, the people who are on the ground floor tend to figure out how to adjust formal process and procedure in a way that works best, and they then teach it to new employees, which helps the organization to function better. In spite of what may be the written procedures, they do what works. An effective leader pays attention to this and maintains awareness and understanding of what is working and what is not, and will then use that understanding to help shape decisions.

Then, if it is working, keep doing it (as the old saying states, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”). This truth was evident in the research conducted by Collins & Hansen and published in Great by Choice (2011). They defined a SMaC (Specific, Methodical, and Consistent) recipe as “a set of durable operating practices that create a replicable and consistent success formula” (p. 128), and then noted that highly successful companies “adhered to their recipes with fanatic discipline to a far greater degree than the comparisons, and . . . they carefully amended their recipes with empirical creativity and productive paranoia” (p. 131). However, they also found that these companies “changed their recipes less than their comparisons” (p. 138). Their research revealed that companies that were doing things well and were thriving tended to continue doing what was working without great change. They were not subject to changing with the wind, or panic, or the latest fad, but held to the practices that they knew worked.

This has been one of my personal frustrations in the world of education. In my years as a teacher and school administrator, it seems like I have seen countless new programs and initiatives established, often to have another new one rolled out the following year. They have always been communicated as necessary for effective education, but many times it has reminded me of “stage one economics” – there appears to be an immediate short-term gain or value, but in the long term it is more detrimental than it is beneficial. But before that becomes apparent, the world of education has moved on to a new program.

As leaders, we need to be intentional about doing what works (which is generally evident in the results). And we need to not be afraid of allowing the people who would know best to have input, so we need to give people a voice in the process. This does not mean we don’t periodically assess and analyze, because we do need to make sure it still works, and we can often make minor tweaks that bring improvement. But don’t change for the sake of change when what you have is working, and if what you have is not working, don’t keep doing it. Do what works. And keep doing it.

 

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Be Intentional

I have often said, when in a leadership role, that there is very little that I don’t do on purpose.  In other words, most of what I do is on purpose or for a purpose.  It may seem that this is an obvious statement, and in one way it is, in that it is a leadership principle that makes sense.  However, it generally requires a much more intentional effort to be intentional than most would realize! The reason for this is that intentionality, or ‘intentionalness’ (a made-up word), needs to be woven into even the most minor and trivial things for it to be effective, which requires much more work than being intentional in major or obvious ways.

Edgar Schein explains this same idea in Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010) when he talks about Primary Culture Embedding Mechanisms, which he lists as attention, reaction, allocation, example, rewards, and recruiting.  It is interesting to note that none of these are actions, or embedding mechanisms, that happen randomly or by chance; rather they all must be actions that leaders intentionally take to embed cultural changes within an organization or environment.  He goes on to emphasize the importance of the mechanism of attention, and says, “the most powerful mechanism that founders, leaders, managers, and parents have available for communicating what they believe in or care about is what they systematically pay attention to.”  (p. 237) He then illustrates this further when says that “even casual remarks and questions that are consistently geared to a certain area can be as potent as formal control mechanisms and measurements.” (p. 237) The point that he makes is that the leader must be intentional about the way he conducts himself in front of and in interaction with his followers, even in the details of choices of words and comments.

It may be easier to identify and establish this characteristic in organizations as a whole than in individuals, because organizational culture tends to more easily be intentional and deliberate due to their complexity and size (like the greater deliberation it takes to turn a battleship as compared to a canoe).  Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), says it this way: “Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures.” (pp. 417-418)  In the same way, however, individuals can develop a more intentional way of thinking and acting by forcing themselves to think more slowly, deliberately, and orderly until it becomes more natural.

So if leaders are more effective when they are proactively intentional, then what does it look like in practice? It can be demonstrated by consciously asking yourself why something is done a certain way, and then thinking through or dialoguing options and ideas in order to make sure that what you are doing is for the right purpose and in the best way.  It could be making it safe for someone to make a mistake and allowing that person to fail so that he will learn and grow, and then stepping in to be a positive component of his growth process.  Or perhaps choosing words that will be best understood in the organizational context and choosing to avoid words that would have a negative cultural connection in that same context (for example, in one organization in which I worked, I deciphered that the word “debrief” caused much anxiety, which I could eliminate by using “review” or “talk through” instead).  In the many decisions that you make every day, these and many other actions and words are simple, and often minor, communication and relationship practices that you as a leader can do – intentionally – that will enhance your leadership effectiveness.

 

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed.). New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.