Beware: “The Culture – CULT-ure GAP”

Mind-the-GapHey, ho, marathoners in and for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) Exhausted, depleted from running the Godly, good, and a-blessing-to-others race? Welcome. Sit. Relax.

Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City) so that God will be glorified and people blessed.

Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth, pure doctrine of the Bible

Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed

Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment

Organizational Culture is Huge… and largely neglected. It can be defined as “a set of shared ethical, moral, and mental assumptions that guide interpretation and action in organizations by defining appropriate behavior for various situations.” Organizational culture – in organizations of EVERY kind – affects the way people and groups interact with each other internally, with clients, and with all stakeholders – or anyone who has any sort of stake in how any organization does its thing!

There’s no question that the most important area for any organization of any kind to focus its energies on is assuring it establishes and maintains the very best culture. Again, the American Heritage dictionary defines the word culture as, “The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.”

And let me say that the character and behavior of LEADERSHIP is where organizational-cultural issues begin and end. Said another way, the three top things which has the greatest influence on what sort of cultural attributes will characterize the organization is: leadership, leadership and leadership. Get the point?

I emphasize leadership because it is an exponentially important role and responsibility of leadership to set the example and assure the very best culture for success. Stephen Covey said, “In a very real sense there is no such thing as ‘organizational behavior.’ There is only individual behavior. Everything else flows out of that.” (“Principled-Centered Leadership”) The “individual” Covey is referring to is leadership.

Now, more than any time in the history of all organizations, an intentional and flourishing cultural credo, and a commensurate business process and technology support system to support the culture, should be job number one! The two BIG problems? 1) The market always makes demands on leadership which are completely counterintuitive to devoting the necessary time, talent, and treasure investment in CULTURE. An example is the “supply and demand curve for jobs”: so many employable people with so few openings can tempt leaders into treating their most valuable asset as a commodity – and that’s a very bad thing: to expect any human being to flourish while, at the same time, being treated as an expendable commodity is a crime comparable to murder… or perhaps the lesser crime of promoting prostitution. 2) The heart of far too many leaders has been stripped of the character traits and emotional intelligence required to create the ideal culture and sustain it. “Creation” flowing from character; sustaining from emotional intelligence – or, said another way, the best set, or combination of leadership traits.

“The ability to manage ourselves and relationships effectively require: Integrity, Character, Ethics, Knowledge, Wisdom, Empathy, Self-Awareness, Collaboration, Drive, and Self-Control.” (Danial Goleman, EI)

The main point of this GAP Report is to point out and warn the reader about the potential GAP between establishing the best organizational culture, and the reality of a culture of a highly dysfunctional nature: The GAP between a great culture and having to thrive in a “CULT-ure”. We all know that a “dysfunctional organization” of any kind doesn’t mean it can’t function. It just means that a wide variety coping mechanisms must exist that allow the organization to function at varying degrees of success or failure… usually without failing entirely. But, “coping mechanisms” = waste. Wasted capital resources, wasted innovation, and wasted people.

And I don’t – no one should –take the word wasted lightly, friends! When human beings – Image Bearers of God – are wasted in any way it’s a crime of the highest level and proportion compared to the unspeakable value and worth every human being has (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 139). And whether an organization has a great or God-awful cultural environment is up to leadership and how he or she sees and treats human beings

Interestingly enough, I have found that the study of how cults indoctrinate members to be very instructive about the symptoms and the behavior to recognize (or stop denying) and avoid (or start working on it today) when (re-)establishing a healthy organizational culture. Some indoctrination techniques of cults include:

1) Subjection to stress and fatigue
2) Social disruption, isolation and pressure
3) Self-criticism and humiliation
4) Fear, anxiety and paranoia
5) Control of information
6) Escalating commitment
7) Use of auto-hypnosis to induce ‘peak’ experiences

Please don’t throw these away due to being in denial or because you haven’t chewed on them enough.

With the exception of the more extreme end of the list in all but a very few organizations, and to varying degrees, this set of indoctrination techniques commonly utilized by CULTS might feel “pretty much like every organization I’ve worked for!” Well, don’t be surprised or overly cynical. If most of us will slow down and re-frame how various experiences we’ve had in the workplace actually match the above techniques used by cults… we might see what a CULT-ure it is that we work in!

And it may also be true mainly because it’s actually quite rare to find organizations that match the description below of how to assure a healthy organizational culture – and some of the “must-do’s” to keep it that way:

1) Stewardship of the Vision/Mission: “Effective, enduring and memorable leaders set a vision and use their authority to create an environment where people can contribute to the vision’s success and flourish doing so. Leaders are environmentalists.” (John Gardner)

2) Organizational core values, behaviors are established – measured, recognized, and utilized in all performance reviews

3) Leadership maintains ” a contact leadership” plan – regularly visits the front-line folks in the trenches

4) Customers, key stakeholders are really valued – all internal and external key customer entities and their key satisfiers are known, measured and habitually used to continually improve

5) Elevating people as the only sustainable competitive advantage – in any / all communication channels

6) Meaningful work / life guidelines – includes a holistic approach, empathy, trust, and accountability

7) Significant business process and / or technology changes aren’t rushed – because people, people, people are the key to their effectiveness

8) The Human Relations Dept. is intentionally and radically valued – and not just a “departmental step-child” or the gatekeeper for a host of “admin. must-do’s”

9) Community service opportunities are genuine – area of greatest need, high humility, low arrogance factor

Finally, a word picture that most aptly describes the GAP between a great organizational culture and the dangers of organizational “CULT-ure” is that of jumping into and swimming in a pool of water: There’s a world of difference between diving into a stagnant and putrefied pool and one which has clean, fresh, aerated (nice big waterfall) water running in and out of it!

Cults are focused entirely inwardly. And that’s never good in any realm of life.

By deep contrast, an invigorating and inspiring organizational culture is entirely focused outwardly: It stays fresh, clean, cold, and clear because of the continual in-flow and out-flow of behavior-changing knowledge, innovation from all stakeholder entities as well as the ways leadership puts systems, rewards, and recognition in place to continually improve, evolve, and develop… wait for it… the people.

This “pool of living water” must be inspired, established and maintained by leadership or else the organisms attempting to thrive in any organizational culture will perish or find another pool to swim in!

Please take the above as seriously as God does, Marathoners for Christ: “And [Jesus Christ] the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) God so loves each and every heart in this world so much that He sent His one and only Son to rescue and reclaim us. And our love of God and neighbor is reflected in whether or not we treat organizational culture as seriously as we should – does it glorify God or embarrass Him?

Until we sup again, run well, you Saints of Christ,


Uncontainable: How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives, by Kip Tindell

Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, by Danny Meyer

What Is Your Church’s Personality? Discovering and Developing the Ministry Style of Your Church, by Phil Douglas

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ, by Peter Scazzero

Principle-Centered Leadership, by Stephen Covey

Primal Leadership [With a New Preface by the Authors]: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

On Leadership, by John Gardner

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