Culture and Leadership

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A critical review of
Edgar H Schein: 1996 “Culture: The missing concept in organization studies” Administrative Science Quarterly, 41, 229 – 240.


According to Edgar H Schein, if Organizational studies is to evolve fully, it should give importance to the study and understanding of culture in an organization. He is also emphasizing that, in order to understand culture, it has to be observed in an organizational setting rather than measuring it by using data.

Although most of the Psychologists and Sociologists studied the various concepts of organization but did not focus on the seriousness of ‘culture’, as Schein (1996) reiterates that the failure to take culture seriously is because of the method of inquiry which put a premium on abstractions rather than clinical observation of organizational phenomena. Schein, (1992) defines culture as the set of shared, taken-for-granted implicit assumptions that a group holds and that determines how it perceives, thinks about, and reacts to its various environments.

Huczynski et al (2007) defines Organizational culture as the ‘collection of relatively uniform and enduring values, beliefs, customs, traditions and practices that are shared by an organization’s members, learned by new recruits and transmitted from one generation of employees to the next.

Culture – Serious concept in Organization:

To understand the seriousness and importance of culture in an organization, it is important to explore some possible relationship between organizational culture to performance, ethical behaviour, challenge of managing a culturally diverse workforce and how organizations socialize individuals into their particular culture (John W Slocum & Don Hellriegel, 2007). Also, to understand culture better, Schein insists that organization studies should bring in whatever disciplines were relevant to the understanding of organizational culture. Schein was disappointed that the Psychologists, Sociologists, Anthropologists did not complement each others work as Psychologists did not pay enough attention to the Sociologists and Anthropologists and for their part Sociologists did not pay enough attention to the impact of individual difference on the social phenomena that they observed.

At this juncture it is important to understand that how a strong organizational culture can influence an organization as ‘a strong organizational culture can be the factor that sends an organization to greatness as its members are inspired to do their utmost to work hard to conceive and make goods and services that improve the welfare of their customers and thus themselves’ (Schermerhorn et al, 2004).

Schein strongly advocates that, in order for the Organizational studies to progress and evolve better, it should have a set of concepts and clear methods of inquiry, which are anchored in and derive from concrete observations of real behaviour in real organizations and that are amenable to some kind of formal and operational definition so that they can be studied further.

In his study, Schein demonstrates whether culture in an organization is created, developed and practised by both the individuals or by the organization itself by citing the Coercive Persuasion imposed on the prisoners of war (POW) in the Korean conflict. According to Huczynski et al, 2007, ‘Culture in an organization is a product of group experience and will be found wherever there is a definable group with significant shared history, values and beliefs’. The important force that opened up the minds of the prisoners to confess was the single minded focus which all the interrogators, prison guards exhibited towards which Schein points out as the ‘passion for Unanimity’. Again in this case all the studies were focussed only on understanding the passion for unanimity which caused the prisoners to confess but nobody paid attention to understand how such an environment was created and who created it.

According to Maanen et al,...
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