Organizational Culture and Leadership

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Just the relatively simple act of moving house or jobs can be stressful for many people especially if they have been in one place or position for quite sometime. This is especially so if the change entails an almost complete overhaul of not just your job, your house but your life and how you operate as a person. Such became my case some 25 years ago when I decided to leave my work in a New York City hospital behind for a career in the military, specifically with the Navy.

Some people couldn’t understand it at the time since I was leaving the relatively sure and safe confines of hospital work along with the decent pay it provides. I already had a family at the time and just had the birth of my first child so taking a pay cut to join the navy might have seemed crazy to some then. So why did I do it? Hospital work lacked upward mobility. While my co-workers seemed to be content on not advancing their careers and just retiring at the posts they currently held, this was not for me. Somehow I wanted to feel that there was progress in a relatively more tangible way.

Joining the Navy was a big decision. If it were as easy as some people may think it is, then that would be great. Quite honestly, a lot of people would be surprised just how “off base” their perception of life and work in the navy may be. The biggest illusion that I think most people have when joining the Navy is that you are going to make a lot of money and because you are on a ship, you are never in harm’s way. Given today’s current events and volatile situations, in order to have a successful career in the Navy, you must have an understanding spouse.

Times are tough now, and ships are being ordered away from homeport six to eight months out of the year. One of the hardest parts of entering the Navy was boot camp. I had to adjust to the reality that someone only slightly older than me with no responsibilities in life was telling me what to do. As I soon learned age was not a factor during boot camp, everyone was treated as children as this was part of our indoctrination into the Navy. Hard as it was we had to unlearn the life of being an individual civilian and instead grasp the team culture of the Navy.

While the way life in the armed forces as often portrayed in the movies can be glamorous, the reality of it is it can be pretty mundane at camp. After all, we still are individuals trying to get by with the demands and rigors of military life as well as our own personal affairs. I agree with the author Edgar Schein when he said that cultures begin with leaders who impose their own values and assumptions on a group (Schein, 1992, pp. 1,2). In boot camp the drill instructors were the leaders and they imposed on us the Navy’s culture which we in turn assimilated.

Individuals who could not adapt to it did not stay long enough to go further. In some ways, it can be understandable as the difference between civilian and life in the armed forces can be numerous. I also think Schein had it right when he said that it was wrong for an individual to go into an organization with set assumptions (p. 5). Personally, I think the best thing a person can do in entering new environments is to keep an open mind and learn how things really are before forming any opinions.

I agree that dominant cultures within a group must be there for some reason and these reasons merit some looking into (p. 12) In my case, the navy needed team players and capable leaders, not whiners. In chapter eight of his book, Schein talked about observations of organizational culture from both the outsider and insider perspectives (pp. 147-155). Leader or not, this I think is a most practical and intelligent thing that all people should do. In the Armed forces, strategies, plans and campaigns are done based on good intelligence and research. It is thoroughly foolish to go blindly into anything.

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