Organizational Culture and Leadership

Posted: 4 Nov 2009

See all articles by Edgar H. Schein

Edgar H. Schein

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Date Written: 1985


Discusses the key role of organizational leadership in organizational culture, and the intertwining problems associated with each. Organizational culture is defined as the basic assumptions and beliefs shared by members of an organization. These are learned, operate unconsciously, and essentially define an organization's view of itself and its environment. Though cultural differences are reflected in companies, each company also has an individual culture that modifies local or national cultures. Origins of culture are discussed, especially the entrepreneur's effect on cultural formation, and mechanisms of embedding and reinforcing cultural standards as a means of guiding an evolving company. Taking an interdisciplinary perspective, the book analyzes the maturing research in the field of organization studies - the available ethnographic methods, participant observation, qualitative research, and clinical research. Results indicate that culture functions to solve an organization's basic problems of (a) surviving in the external environment and (b) integrating its internal processes to ensure its continued survival. Since the organizational structure and people's attitudes and perceptions constitute key artifacts of a culture, both these must be changed before the company's overarching cultural change can occur. Typically, change begins at the formative stage as a positive growth force in need of development, evolves into a complex, diverse model of culture, and finally at the point of maturation, often becomes dysfunctional. It is at this point that the leader-usually the entrepreneur - is most crucial, often turning to various change models as a means of sustaining the company. Though the leader's role in cultural formation shifts, such purposeful, foundational change in an organization only occurs rarely in mature companies and under effective leadership. In sum, cultural leadership - and especially the role of the cultural manager - needs to be assessed more clearly in light of the organization's rapidly changing internal and external environment. (CJC)

Keywords: Attitude change, Leadership, Organizational change, Firm management, Organizational cultures, Cultural identity, Cultures

Suggested Citation

Schein, Edgar, Organizational Culture and Leadership (1985). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Historical Research Reference in Entrepreneurship, Available at SSRN:

Edgar Schein (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-3636 (Phone)
617-253-2660 (Fax)

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics