Friday, January 31, 2014

Stop and Smell the Culture!

Here’s another “board member temptation” on my list:

“To assume that all Christ-centered organizations
have similar organizational cultures.”

What happens when a new board member (and even a new CEO) doesn’t take time to study your ministry’s unique and distinct culture? He or she could run the risk of dramatically misreading and misunderstanding critical, historical and theological nuances that matter. Cultures grow either by default or design—and Peter Drucker often shared this warning:
“Company cultures are like country cultures.
Never try to change one.
Try, instead, to work with what you've got.”

Suppose that same new board member, recently named to the strategic planning task force, challenges the board with this often-repeated powerful idea, “Vision helps your dreams become bigger than your memories.”

I love that quotation, but what could go wrong? Well…what if the organization’s founder is still alive and highly influential? What if the focus on the future is misread as a repudiation of the past? What if cheerleaders for your ministry’s history are your major donors? What if the tribal stories are replaced by the “Vision 2020” campaign” brochures? Oops!

Past seminary board chair and corporate CEO, Max De Pree, author of Leadership Is an Art, alluded to culture issues when he said: “One of the important things leaders need to learn is to recognize the signals of impending deterioration.”  He kept a list and observed that leaders, especially in large organizations, fail to see the signs of entropy, including: 
   1) a tendency toward superficiality
   2) no longer having time for celebration and ritual
   3) a growing feeling that rewards and goals are the same thing
   4) when people stop telling tribal stories or cannot understand them
   5) when problem-makers outnumber problem-solvers.  

His list was longer—but you get the idea.My counsel for those board members with rolled-up sleeves and teeth clenched for the next—but possibly premature—visionary initiative? 
Chill out!
Yes—for the Christ-centered board member on a mission—time is short.  But slow down and smell the roses. Enjoy the journey. Pray. Spiritually discern God’s voice. And…before you push too hard on the “Vision 2020” campaign, be sure you understand the unique calling and unique culture of the ministry.

A.W. Tozer said, “It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything.” So study your ministry’s culture and you may uncover the rich and thoughtful motivation that explains, in part, God’s blessing on the past. It could be a key to future impact.

BOARD EXERCISE: At your next board meeting, divide into groups of two for 10 minutes, and ask each group to bullet-point your ministry’s unique culture.  Share the results and then ask board members for one-minute fill-in-the-blank responses to: “Wow! I learned that…”

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