Leadership and Culture

For the past two weeks, I’ve been conducting interviews with various colleagues for my cultural analysis paper – most of which are my indirect or direct supervisors. In my interview with the new Associate Vice Provost  (AVP) for Academic Advising, we had a long discussion about how we do things in higher education based on the leadership at the time. For instance, VCU’s previous Provost, AVP for Learning and Student Success, and VP  for Academic and Faculty Affairs were focused on an online advising tool that was going to help us track students better and come up with early intervention campaigns never before tried during the Spring 2014. However, they all left shortly after the tool was purchased and the only person left to implement the online platform was an Associate Dean who didn’t have a say in the decision making to begin with.  The new leadership that came in had no attachment to this product, other than it came with a large price tag, so we should fulfill our contract.

The new Provost and AVP for Advising are getting rid of the online advising tool when the contract ends this year. They are adopting another tool that will help streamline advising, career center, and learning support services at VCU. It sounds like a great product, but needless to say, the shifts come and go with the leadership. I feel as though big agenda items for one leader becomes part of the departmental culture. In other words, org culture can be cyclical in nature. The way we do things or as Schein likes to call them the underlying assumptions that determine our behavior are based on the leadership’s initiatives. If the leadership changes, so can the culture. Schein states that one of the ways cultures form is “new beliefs, values, and assumptions brought in by new members and new leaders” (Schein, 2010, pg. 219). I know I wrote about this in my article review, but I am even more convinced that the culture comes from the top as a result of this class. I feel as though the leader “embeds” the vision of the organization (Schein, 2010, pg. 235).  They are the ones that create momentum around a particular task that becomes a part of the advising culture.  Once that leader is replaced, the group (or department in my case) looks to the new leader for critical reflection and new ways of doing things.

I know I’ve blogged about my new boss a lot in this class, but her style of leadership has been fascinating to watch. She is already changing the culture in our department based on observable things like dress code to new underlying assumptions like accountability and follow through. I can see the class materials being revisited as I continue working in this unit.

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2 thoughts on “Leadership and Culture

  1. I agree that leadership affects culture, but I also think that culture can affect leadership. When there is a change in leadership, there seems to always be a power struggle of whose preferences prevail. I guess this would be the storming/forming part of the process. It is interesting to think about the dynamics and who becomes victorious and who doesn’t. For example, when I worked for the government; we continuously acquired new leadership as is the nature of our system. In order for us to be effective, we had to learn how to create long-term goals and initiatives that we could still achieve even when the funding, policies and procedures changed according to the leadership’s priorities. We became very good at rephrasing and repurposing in order to appease the leader. So, who was really directing things – the leader or the staff? This semester, our department acquired a new leader and it there is a clear jockeying for control of the culture – the group status quo is fighting to remain while the leader is asserting her values. I am watching with academic interest and am glad that I have some theoretical insight to decipher what is going on and perhaps predict some outcomes.

    Interesting how many new leaders there are around here, isn’t it?

  2. I’ve only worked in higher education, and only on one occasion seen egalitarian organizational leadership. I can’t help but wonder if the organizational structure of higher education in general lends itself to a very top-down (and in my opinion) reactionary culture. From the Board of Visitors to the President and down, individual departmental cultures can have to make drastic adjustments to their culture and values based upon shifting priorities of top leadership. That alignment can be particularly hard for entry-level practitioner who may have joined an organization because they valued a particular way of doing work. For example, I’ve seen a move in the last few years to stress volume in programs- more programs! more people! A push for measurable outcomes has meant that the value of quality student interactions (a lot harder to measure) has become less important. As someone said in class last night— “If you can’t measure it, how do you know it happened?” :/

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