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Personal Leadership 101: Respect the Concept of Culture

Jerusalem, where I live, is an international city. I have lasting relationships with people who do not live here, but rather come here regularly. It is often the case that I see these people more than I do my old friends and neighbors who live in-country. After being in such regular contact with people from a few international organizations, I started noticing a pattern. The people from each organization were behaving like other people from their own respective organizations. They were talking in a similar way, and even looked similar to a degree.

I began to notice that each organization represented its own culture. Now, maybe this is a given for some people, but it was a revelation for me. I’ve noticed that when something remarkable happens, like a great work of art or product, or a move of God – a culture gets built up around it. And the easiest way for us to make sense of that remarkable thing is to connect it to an organization, and thus to its culture.

Every Organization has a Culture

I recently attended a Global Leadership Summit (GLS) international event here in Jerusalem. This event sought to bring together Israeli leaders in ministry and in business. We got to hear from leadership experts like Bill Hybels (pastor of Willow Creek Church) and others.

When Bill Hybels began the GLS with his talk, it encouraged me to hear him remind us of that same thing: every organization has a culture. He is approaching this concept as the leader of an organization. I, on the other hand, am dealing with the same concept as either a member or an observer of various organizations.

But his leadership insight revealed just how crucial Culture (capital “C”) is. He went as far as saying that your organization may have people that are mature, disciplined, hard-working, skilled, and agreeable. But if they don’t fit the Culture, then they aren’t a good match. He also described the woeful case in which those who do fit the culture one day decide to quit, making it all the more difficult for the leader.

Three ways to not respect the concept of Culture

I know what it’s like to try to fit into an organization that’s not a cultural match for me. It is painful. And before I came to respect the concept of Culture, I tried to deal with my incompatibility through three responses:

  1. My Culture Stinks. My attitude was that my own culture was just not good enough, and this organization that I was joining was an opportunity to be a part of a better culture. Unfortunately, this did not hold over time. Yes, there are many great things I can say about this organization’s culture. But you simply need to apply insight to the things that you value. You need to respect your own culture so that you can be the leader you are called to be. (Make no mistake, we are all called to be leaders, it starts with personal leadership – leading your self.) If this means you aren’t a good fit with a particular organization, that’s OK. Just don’t buy into the lie that your own culture is not valuable.
  2. I Can Change the Culture. There are lot of things you can do to add to and benefit the organization you’re a part of, but don’t go trying to change the culture. Because the culture did not originate with you. Someone else decided to put his/her life on the line in order to make this organization, and it is infused with their culture. If you’re a good fit, then it works. If you’re not, then the only thing you can do is either go to where there’s a culture you can fit in with, or start your own organization.
  3. Culture is Not Important. Holding on to that mentality is like hitting your head against a brick wall in an attempt to remodel your kitchen. Even God disagrees with that statement. Consider what He says about the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelations:

    And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it [the New Jerusalem]. – Revelation 21:26 NKJV

    The “glory and honor of the nations” is a reference to the things that each particular nation values. What your nation values is what becomes your nation’s culture. What your organization values is what becomes your organization’s culture. What you value becomes your culture. Here, God is inviting each nation to bring it’s own culture into the New Jerusalem.

So, what can you do about this? Respect the concept of Culture. Respect an organization’s culture. And please, respect your own culture – how else will you lead us?