All organizations contain an invisible culture, with varying strains of subcultures. These cultures can be accessed by analyzing three levels: artifacts (visible structures), values (philosophies), and assumptions (perceptions). Leaders are at the forefront of culture as models; by learning how to discern an organization’s culture, leaders can then create, transmit, change, maturate, and foster the life of what Schein calls a “learning culture.”
The Learning Leader, as Schein says, creates culture by spreading shared assumptions, which result in shared values, and those values then showcase as positive artifacts. The organization is a living structure, which matures alongside the culture and like any living thing, without food (leadership) and water (culture), can die. However, changing culture is complex and often lifelong, requiring the slow and gradual application of principles, while keeping a careful eye the leader’s relationship with the organization in question.
Schein’s opus is the combination of a sociological experiment and the application of metaphysical business principles on a theoretical level, and in some cases, explanation through example. He compares and contrasts two companies, Action and Multi, both organizations which deal in high-tech fields, the former in electronics, and the latter in medical technologies. Schein claims the principles he espouses throughout the book as fact, but whether or not they are is unclear as both companies’ stories end without a proper answer of whether the culture had changed or if anything positive had happened. Market forces appear to dominate the field more than his principles, but as examples of how leadership generates culture, they prove to be adequate for the purposes of the book.
It is my role-modeling in the classroom that essentially sets the stage for learning and cooperation. What this means is not only do leaders affect culture on a subconscious level, but they have the ability (if they train themselves) to affect culture on a conscious level, if they first recognize personal responsibility in the formation of culture, and then endeavor to create change within that culture.
Schein, E.H. (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership. (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.