Five Books on Growing Culture

Culture – Five Books on Growing Culture 

“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

“Strategy eats culture for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker

Fitting it all together

Sometimes you work on one section of a jigsaw puzzle for a long time without knowing where it fits into the bigger puzzle on the board.  Then voila it connects and falls into place.  That is how I felt about these books.  I have been writing about adaptive leadership and the need to lead differently, more flexibly and more collaboratively.

Each of these books fit into that bigger picture.  Microsoft CEO Nadella tells us how to transform corporate culture to rediscover their innovative soul.   Creating Magic shows us how Disney grows culture. LeaderING by Giordano helps us see opportunity in the midst of turmoil.  A non-anxious presence shows how anxiety grows in this time “between two eras.”  And Tempered Resilience provides tools for living through sabotage without a failure of nerve … or failure of courage.  Books for our times and how to grow culture in the midst of crisis and conflict.

Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by Satya Nadella , Greg Shaw , et al. | Nov 5, 2019

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella’s book, Hit Refresh, focuses directly on culture. The subtitle says it well … rediscovering Microsoft’s soul and imagining a better future.  That required empathy, teamwork and removing barriers to innovation.  One of his signature projects has been a company-wide hackathon designed to say we need everyone’s best ideas here.  Nadella describes his journey well.  Telling how he honored the founders AND made the pivot to recapture the innovative energy that would take Microsoft forward into the future.

That is the challenge each of us as school leaders face: How to refresh our school cultures to re-energize the hope and ideas that will take us forward to improve student learning and equity.

Leadering: The Ways Visionary Leaders Play Bigger by Nancy Giordano  | Feb 5, 2021

“How can I get folks to move faster when the organization is not ready?” LeaderING, according to author Giordano, is the answer.  LeaderSHIP she says is focused on yesterday.  LeaderING looks to the future with:  Wonder, Collaboration, Caring, Connecting, and a Compass.  LeaderING is about playing bigger, shifting our mindset, taking a broader perspective, seeking opportunity and innovation.

Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell  | Oct 14, 2008

This the oldest book of the bunch … but I just read it! And it is full of good ideas about growing a culture of magic for the Walt Disney Kingdom.  Cockerell writes from 10 years of experience as VP for operations overseeing 40,000 employees.  His keys to success?  Everyone is important.  Make people your brand. Give people a purpose not just a job.  Cockerell is a good story teller and makes his points clearly and succinctly.  Spend time with front line staff, they know best about what works and what doesn’t.  Learn to ask good questions. Apply those ideas and you save money and win loyalty for life.

A Non-Anxious Presence: How a Changing and Complex World will Create a Remnant of Renewed Christian Leaders by Mark Sayers  | May 3, 2022

I have been writing about Bridges’ Neutral Zone and how adaptive leadership is needed to help us find our way through the chaos of the neutral zone.  Here, Sayers, shows us that we are all – globally – in the gray zone between two eras.  One era is ending.  The stability of the American Century is giving way to a new era of competing decentralized networks.  The rules are changing.  We are unsettled.  Anxious.  The loudest voices dominate.  Needed the author says are leaders who are a “non-anxious presence.”  Leaders who can withstand the heat without a failure of nerve or a failure of courage.  This is one of those books that you say … Oh, that is why this happening.

Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Tempered Resilience Set) by Tod Bolsinger | Nov 10, 2020

Change is hard.  Many, if not most, change initiatives fail.  Leading change is disruptive.  The question is not IF we will face sabotage … only when and how.  So how do we as leaders remain resilient in the turmoil of change?  Bolsinger uses the illustration of the blacksmith’s forge.   “The rhythm of stress and rest tempers a tool and builds in the strength and flexibility that bring resilience.”  “The key to resilience,” Bolsinger says, is “trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.” Other keys:  build strong relationships, take time to rest and reflect, reframe issues around shared vision.

Together we can …

These five books let us know we are not alone.  The entire world is in transition.  The center often no longer holds.  And yet it is our job as leaders to chart a way forward.  These books each urge us to engage others, collaborate, and grow capacity.  Now, more than ever, courageous and collaborative leaders are needed to bring us together in a common cause and a culture of commitment.




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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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