Elements of Cultural Leadership

Elements of Cultural Leadership

What is Cultural Leadership?
Culture is important because it influences human behavior and it is difficult to change. It’s crucial for superintendents to understand the influence of culture on the organization and that culture trumps everything. Or as Dr. Peter Drucker (1909-2005) is credited with saying, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Simply put, no matter how powerful the strategy, it will not work if it is not supported by the organizational culture.

Reflection: How can you focus more on cultural leadership as superintendent?


Why is Cultural Leadership Important to a 21st Century Superintendent?

Today’s school superintendents lead increasingly complex organizations and work in demanding environments. An essential skill for successful superintendents is cultural leadership, one that Kentucky is including as part of the new standard for superintendent effectiveness. Cultural leadership challenges superintendents to understand and act on the important role a system’s culture has in achieving successful student learning outcomes for all district schools. Superintendents understand the people in the district and community, the historical evolution of how things came to be in their current state, and how to connect with district traditions in order to move the district forward while supporting the district’s efforts to achieve individual and collective goals. While supporting and valuing the history, traditions, and norms of the district and community, a superintendent must be able to “re-culture” the district if needed, to align its culture with the district’s goals to improve student and adult learning outcomes, and to approach their work with adults and students with passion, meaning, and purpose.

Reflection: What can you do to make cultural leadership a focus for the key leaders in your district, its schools, and community you serve?

What are the Fundamentals of Leadership for Building an Effective Culture?

In the book, The Quality School (Glasser, 1992), the delineation between boss and leader is made. Effective leadership will cultivate a culture that is student centered, high performing, and embrace continuous improvement. Refer to this list often:

    A boss drives - A leader leads
    A boss relies on authority - A leader relies on cooperation
    A boss says “I” - A leader says “we”
    A boss creates fear - A leader creates confidence
    A boss knows how - A leader shows how
    A boss creates resentment - A leader breeds enthusiasm
    A boss fixes blame - A leader fixes mistakes
    A boss makes drudgery - A leader makes work interesting

Reflection: How can you ensure you and your leadership team have the leadership skills necessary to effectively develop a culture that is student-centered, high performing, and embraces continuous improvement?

What is the Difference Between Culture and Climate?
Effective superintendents know the difference between climate and culture. They attune themselves to the climate and culture of the schools and district to cultivate a safe, orderly environment that is student-centered, high performing, and embraces continuous improvement.

Reflection: What is the difference between climate and culture? How would you describe the climate and culture in your district?

Great Organizations – How They Build Cultures of Discipline and Greatness
Great organizations have a relentless culture of discipline where disciplined people engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action. Great organizations build a culture around the idea of freedom and responsibility. They fill the organizational culture with self-disciplined individuals who are willing to go the “extra mile” to fulfill their responsibilities and their part of the mission.

Reflection: Do you have a culture that values relentless discipline and greatness?

How Superintendents Lead Change that Transforms Culture

Changing an existing organizational culture is a delicate operation and requires leaders to first investigate and understand the existing culture, and then realign the old culture with the new vision and goals.

Reflection: What needs to change in your district? What strategies should you use to begin the change process?