Shaping Culture: Correcting For It (3 of 4)


No matter how clearly you lay out the path of culture and how well you model it, there are going to be plenty of times when people in your church or on your team veer off the path.  Every time I see it happen, I feel like the wind just got knocked out of me.  How could someone deviate from a path I love so much?  Why would they do such a thing?  What do I do now?

If I’m honest, my strategy as a young leader was to ignore these little cultural deviations.  I was convinced if I waited long enough, the cultural outlier would happily rejoin the rest of us on the path.  But that’s not always the case.  In fact, many times I watched as others joined them in the weeds!

One of the most important tools in shaping culture is intentionally correcting deviations from the culture.  Leaders must find ways of communicating, “Hey, that’s not how we do it around here.” (Hint: This is best communicated in person and with an attempt to understand why and how the person got off the path in the first place.)  However we do it, leaders must correct cultural deviations.

In my experience, there are two ways off the cultural path:

  • Cultural wanderers.  Most of the time they don’t even know they’re off the path until you point it out.  They’re just doing what they’ve always done, what came naturally or what seemed right to them.  They aren’t trying to ruin your organization, defy your leadership or destroy your culture.  They’re actually trying to get it right but just wandered a bit.  When this is the case, your corrective conversation becomes much more of a vision casting, cultural shaping moment.  You have the privilege of helping the person understand your culture at a much deeper, more personal and real level.  These conversations are leadership gold!
  • Cultural hijackers.  These guys are a problem – they know they’re off the path.  In fact, they’re trying to create a new path and lead others down it.  They know where you’re trying to go; they just don’t like it and are convinced they can carry the organization in the direction they want to go.  The Bible has a lot to say about how we should handle cultural hijackers.  “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11)  Simple translation – remove them from the culture they’re trying to hijack.  Here’s the good news – cultural hijackers are rare, so don’t be too quick to label someone this way.  But when it becomes clear you’ve got a hijacker on board, take action.

I used to hate these kinds of conversations as a leader.  I would avoid them, delay them and half the time wimp out in the middle of them.  But I’ve come to see that they are a hugely important tool in shaping culture.  I’ve also come to realize that if I don’t care enough about the culture of our church to defend it, I really have no business being the one who shapes it.

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