Culture at the Heart of Leadership and Core of Our Work

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Mark Fields, president of Ford

No matter how compelling a leader’s vision is or how innovative a strategy may be, it will not be realized if it is not supported by the culture.

When I say culture, I am talking about the sum total of the beliefs and values of people in the district which shapes the norms and behavior thus determining how things get done. More simply put, it is “how we do things around here.”

It’s no surprise that a recent study out of Harvard found that school culture matters even more than class size, spending and other structural factors (Fryer and Dobbie, 2011). It’s also not surprising that culture is a leading factor in job satisfaction and productivity.

If innovation won’t “stick” without culture, then shaping culture is an essential function of leadership. Building culture is not frivolous rather it’s at the core, or heart, of our work!

Let’s think about how a culture of collaboration, trust and change are related.

We know:

  • A collaborative culture is needed if all students are going to learn at high levels
  • Trust is needed if we are to build a collaborative culture
  • Rate of change is dependent on levels of trust

Collaborative Culture

A collaborative culture allows us to share expertise, take collective responsibility and hold ourselves accountable for improved results. Isolation is the enemy of improvement! Powerful collaboration requires trust.


Let’s think about trust in leadership as an equation.

Rate of Change

As education leaders we simultaneously support building capacity of ourselves and staff over time while maintaining a sense of urgency to best meet the needs of students we are serving now. We must lead for deep, sustainable change yet we desire swift results. High levels of trust allow a faster rate of change while lower levels of trust slow the rate of change.


How can we use trust to build a culture of collaboration and increase the rate of change for our systems?

What might be the effects on student and adult learning if we shift the culture…

  • …from confusion to clarity?
  • …from fragmented initiatives to coherence/shared purpose and vision?
  • …from isolation to teamwork/unity?
  • …from superficial understanding to deep understanding?
  • …from compliance to commitment?
  • …from external accountability to internal shared accountability/responsibility to one another?
  • …from low trust to high trust?

By Dr. Marci Shepard – March 2013


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