Leading through Culture

We hear many terms floating around and being fired at us from cancel culture, toxic culture to positive culture. There are social cultures and many more cultures to explore. As leaders, we mainly look at our organizational culture and how everyone involved with it feels, the beliefs they hold, values, and assumptions that provide the identity and set the standards of behavior.

Going along with the culture is the climate of the organization. The environment describes the shared perceptions of those individuals involved with the organization. How can we lead through an established culture?

Culture changes. “Cultures are of the people, by the people and for the people.”-Abraham Lincoln. As you step into a leadership role, you may have the opportunity to hire new positions. If you do, it is always important to remember to build on the kind of team you need to succeed.

Diversity is the strength of establishing a culture of acceptance of differences. If the team you build has everyone thinking alike and the same, the culture can become insipid. In a school culture, the essential ingredient is the passion for children, then a passion for teaching. If your culture does not have a passion, it is lifeless and has no direction.

Keys to Building

  • Ask those in leadership positions (holding titles) to provide you with the three top people in the building who have the influence and power to control the culture.
  • Use the three names you were provided to ask the same question to these individuals. Who do they believe are the most influential in the building?
  • After reviewing the results, do you have individuals who appeared several times? These top vote-getters are probably your true leaders regarding setting the tone for your culture.
  • Begin by removing the limited vision that may exist by establishing the belief the school can achieve higher and become the best.
  • Provide a commitment to staff of dedication
  • Establish open communication and active listening
  • Keep those identified as your leaders informed and establish relationships with these individuals
  • Be firm, consistent, and fair in how you maintain discipline

Working on culture is an approach for everyone to be an active participant. “ You add value to people when you value them.”-John C. Maxwell. “Treat them greatly, and they will show themselves to be great.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Set the example by rolling up your sleeves and pitching in to do the heavy lifting. There is nothing wrong with helping out with the duties to help the efforts of others to make your school rise to the level you expect it to be—a model for staff, students, and families. Step into classrooms to see if a teacher needs a break, copies, or any support. Help out in the lunchroom. Pick up chairs from the concert. Make your copies.

As you build the foundation of your culture, the glue to keep all of it together is trust. Without the trust in and from your staff, your leadership will not work. You earn trust. It takes time to be trusted. Once it is gained, maintain it and do everything to keep it. A loss of trust crumbles all that is built.

Work on building a culture daily. What do you want to be known as for a school? Can visitors feel the passion everyone has for teaching and learning when they walk in your doors? Do they see what you believe, value and mission? Just like the question asked in Alice in Wonderland:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”-said Alice. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cheshire Cat. “I don’t much care where—” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cheshire Cat

Know the direction you want to go, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and always remember it is the team working together that reaches the best results.

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