The Benefits and Limitations of cultural leadership

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No topic, probably, has been quite exhaustively examined, studied, dissected and discussed as leadership .In fact the term leadership has been defined as "a process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a task" (Martin M. Chemers).

In today's fast-pace globalised society the cultural aspect is growing in complexity and importance which lead to the emergence of a new type of leadership known as Cultural leadership .In fact the concept of cultural leadership describes the role that leaders at all level of the organization can play in influencing cultural change.

In fact cultural leadership can be defined as "the process through which leadership influences cultural ideologies and expressive behaviours".

Hence organization and executive face a growing need to understand the subtleties of leadership as it is exercised in different cultures. Evidently what may be strength in one culture may be an impediment in another culture. Therefore, each business organization has a culture shaped by the business it is in and the people who run the business. To see how culture comes in to play; you may consider for e.g. a Mauritian studying in UK is asked to run an American business.

Therefore, successful business organization will be those who train their executives to lead in ways that demonstrate an understanding of and appreciation for distinct culture.

Novelty of the model

In cultural leadership, the organization is seen as a whole although the departments have different cultural systems. Emphasize the informal aspects of organization rather than their official elements. Cultural models are manifested by symbols and rituals rather through formal structure of the organization. Cultural models assume that beliefs, values and ideology are the heart of the organization. Individuals hold certain ideas and value-preferences which influence how they behave and how they view the behavior of other members. These norms become shared traditions which are communicated within the group and are reinforced by symbols and ritual. Cultural leaders can facilitate integration through everyday details, such as the order of memos, where meetings are held when referring to groups.

Theorists argue that educational administration has a technical management aspect but is mainly about the culture within the organization. This culture includes the rituals which occur within an organization. The leaders have a central role in influencing culture. Cultural leadership is a way of logically expressing the basic insight that leaders must know themselves, and that they must be knowable to those they seek to lead.

Organization culture assumes the existence of heroes and heroines who embody the values and beliefs of the organization. The hero figure invites emulation and helps to sustain group unity. Every school has its heroes and potential heroes; they can be found among rectors, staff, both present and past; among students and scholars who have gone on to higher success. Cultural leadership may be particularly likely to occur outside of formal leadership roles and independent of an organization's official hierarchy. Cultural leadership may not be limited solely to senior leaders.

The four variants of cultural leader

The four variants of cultural leader are:

Create (establish new culture)

Integrate (both existing and new)

Change (modify some existing)

Embodies (support and reinforce new cultural values)

This can be illustrated as below-

Effective post-merger cultural integration may necessarily involve all four variants of cultural leadership, as leaders seek to establish new cultural elements (leadership that creates), facilitate the integration of both existing and new values into the merging culture (leadership that integrates), modify some existing cultural values (leadership that changes), while at the same time supporting and reinforcing new cultural values (leadership that embodies) (Trice & Beyer, 1993). In other words, in the wake of a merger cultural leaders may need to both embody the core values of the existing culture (maintenance), while at the same time carrying forward new and/or modified cultural elements (innovation).

The above review suggests that leadership in a newly merged organization may entail a relatively complex interplay of both maintenance and innovation, as leaders help followers negotiate, modify, and manage cultural similarities and differences in the post-merger environment.

Handy's four culture models

As shown in the figure Handy identifies four culture models

Club culture

Role culture

Task culture

Person culture

Club culture is illustrated be the spider's web. The person at the head of the organization is located at the centre of the web, surrounded by the concentric circles of associates. Club cultures are rich in personality and abound in mythical stories and folklore from the past. Their danger lies in dominance of the central figure. It works well when organization is relatively small and when the leader is good.

Role culture occurs mainly in large schools and colleges. The formal structure is evident from the chart which identifies roles, and assigns responsibilities largely on the basis of official position. Communications are formalised and go from role to role rather than person to person. People are trained to fulfill their specific role.

In task culture, a group or team is applied to a problem or task. The task culture is usually warm and friendly because it is co-operative rather than hierarchical.

The person culture puts the individual first and makes the organization the resource for individual talents. The managers of the organization are of lower status than the individual professions whose talents are at the heart of the organization. Expert or personal power is decisive as the star individuals are critical to the success of the organization. Few schools or colleges can apply person culture although it may apply to heads of very successful departments which perform exceptional well.

Benefits of cultural leadership

As stated previously (according to Trice and Beyer - 1993), there are four variants of cultural leadership which are leadership that creates, changes, embodies or integrates cultural elements. The authors suggest that these four types of leadership arise in response to different core organizational problems, which include attracting followers and uniting them, weakening or replacing old cultural elements, keeping the existing culture vital, and reconciling the diverse interests of subcultures. If the right balance of cultural leadership is achieved it can prove to be very beneficial to an organization.

Effectiveness in facilitating integration

The first benefit will be effectiveness in facilitating integration. Integration is normally done through training programs to improve cross cultural communication between staff coming from different cultural backgrounds. Mauritian schools can be considered as a melting pot of diverse cultures. Therefore the need of recognition and tolerance of each and everyone's culture is primordial. School leaders either school rectors, departmental heads or teachers should adopt a cultural leadership style in order to achieve their goals. The followers when esteemed and respected duely are more willing to respond positively and cooperate in any maneuver of their leader.

Predicting behavior

The second benefit of cultural leadership is that the leader is able to predict behavior of his followers and relevant actions taken. According to Hargrove 'Cultural leadership ... is creative and cannot be predicted.' But we can draw in the boundaries, even if we are not sure how a leader will move within them. For example a head of school may predict the absence of Hindu staff during the Maha Shivratree festival and request the cooperation of staff of other ethnicities to share the work load or even lower the work load during this period upon application of casual leaves. A P.E teacher as a leader may replace physical exercises by theory classes during Ramadan with respect to the Islamic culture.

Feeling of goodwill

The third benefit of cultural leadership would be that when prediction is made and appropriate actions are taken there is a feeling of goodwill within the organization. The relationship between the leader and the follower is more sincere. There is mutual respect and understanding .The followers are more motivated and dedicated to their work. They have a sense of belonging. In the case of schools students are strongly attached to the school and have a sense of belonging and live sincerely the school culture. As for the teachers they are more dedicated to work and their enthusiasm can b read on their faces when it comes to organizing and participating in extra curricular activities .This enthusiasm of teachers is less intense in state schools compared to private schools due to the issue of transfers.


Lack of systematic assessment of school culture:

It often happens that organizations frequently and unknowingly engage in unintentional discrimination and oppression. According to Sue and Constantine this happens mainly because of barriers that disadvantage people. These barriers may be race or ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation etc. educational leadership scholars stressed that these barriers should be identified and cultural leaders must ensure that new policies and practices are created that reflect the experiences of marginalized groups. According to Frattura and Capper data can raise consciousness of educators about the strengths and inequalities happening in their own schools. That is if a sort of systematic assessment of the school culture is conducted discriminations towards some members may be avoided. This is usually not done because the focus is on academic performance and objectives leaders have to work towards the goals that have been set even if the expenses they have to bear are cultural.

Role and responsibility confusion:

There is confusion as to who should be responsible for ensuring the development of school wide cultural competence. Normally this responsibility is put on one individual such as the classroom teacher, the counselor or the principal. On the other hand, when we talk about intercultural integration, leaders will say that the outcomes depend on students' own initiatives, abilities and choices.

Resource constraints

School leaders often say that they do not have the time, energy, or resources to focus on improving school culture to meet the needs of diverse learners. This again is due to the accountability demands upon them. Furthermore, they do not have financial resources to for the promotion of particular cultural aspects. In many cases knowledge itself is lacking on culturally relevant pedagogy.

Lack of awareness of cultural competence indicators:

School leaders indicate that they do not possess a holistic view of how specific indicators of cultural competence are integrated into the overall school culture. That is there are things or aspects about the way of doing things hat may indicate how culturally competent a person is but people have little awareness of these.

Personal biases:

A cultural leader may have some personal perceptions upon a particular group and he may knowingly or unknowingly discriminate among members solely on the basis of his personal biases.

Relevancy of the model leadership in the Mauritian context

The culture of Mauritius involves the blending of several cultures from Mauritius's history, as well as individual culture arising indigenously. It is an undeniable fact that our school culture, which is the soul of the school, will be greatly influenced by our cultural heritage. The school culture has both its tangible and intangible part which acts as a glue to hold the different stakeholders together. Sergiovani views culture as a force for schools. In this line of thought, a cultural leader will take the different components that form part of the school culture into consideration and empower workers to bring meaningfulness in the working life to meet the organizational objectives. These components are:

Intangible components

Tangible components






School Journal

Rituals (Morning assembly/Prayer)


A cultural leader has several positive impacts on the school climate, environment, workers, students and they are as follows:

Impact on the Mission and vision statement of school

Mission and vision of schools cannot be built in isolation of culture and climate. For example the mission and vision statement of Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Mauritius is as follows:

In accordance with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute Act No.64 of 1970 and MGI Amended Act No. 47 of 2002, the objects of the Institute are:-

a) to establish, as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, a centre of studies of Indian culture and traditions

b) to promote education and culture generally.

As stated above the Gandhian philosophy constitute the basic values and beliefs of the college and a cultural leaders will have as role to ensure that that policy makers so abide this philosophy.

Impact on student learning cannot occur without mindful attention to culture and climate.

Learner's achievement depends on values and belief that are encouraged in the school. Usually this is represented in the school motto. For instance the motto for New Eton College, private secondary school, is "knowledge is power". Here acquisition of knowledge is believed to empower students to be successful in life. Consequently, the cultural leader will ensure that the school motto is known by every stakeholder through newsletters, open school days, during festivities, poster competitions and through notice board.

Cultural leaders can predict behaviors of people.

Predicting human behavior will improve effectiveness in decision making and create less frustration thus eliminating the risk of emerging a toxic culture.

For example, a head of school may predict the absence of Hindu staff during the Maha Shivratree festival and request the cooperation of staff of other ethnicities to share the work load or even lower the work load during this period upon application of casual leaves.

Moreover, A P.E teacher as a leader may replace physical exercises by theory classes during Ramadan with respect to the Islamic culture.


However, cultural leadership has to face several challenges since it also deals with the informal part of the organization. A school rector should find the right balance in terms of leadership skills to be effective. He must be familiar with all approaches of leadership; classical, human and behavioral. Paying too much attention to cultural diversities diverge the school from its prime objective of producing good results. High achievement for all students is a major goal for a principal. A principal may process charisma, increase parental participation in school activities, raise funds for PTA, organize meaningful cultural events. But in Mauritius a principal cannot be considered successful unless high achievement in academic areas is achieved


It is an undeniable fact that all organization needs cultural leaders. However, without specific indicators this model can prove to be a curse rather than a blessing. Mauritian schools should not view culture as being part of religion only. Universal values, like respect for others should be adopted by all schools and form part of their school ethos. Likewise music and art also can be part of the school culture.