This topic is in two sections bellow, each with a video Please scroll down to part 2:

Section 1: Organisational Culture

As we continue in this lesson our challenge is to set this vision of Christ-centred servant leadership against the dynamics of organisation so that we can begin to grasp the difference it can make.

  • Take a Moment 
    • What do you think “organisational culture” is?  Note down any examples that you can identify.

Organisational culture is often described as “the way we do things around here”. Leaders have a strong impact on how things are done because they reinforce existing behaviours and by their own example establish new values that get lived out. Because of the influence that leaders have on organisational culture and the influence organisational culture has on others, it is an important area of concern for Christ-centred leaders. It matters because the people of an organisation tend to reflect the character of its culture. Thus a Christian enterprise, or even a church, that reflects worldly organisational cultures will not be a place in which Christians find it easy to reflect and live out a Christ-centred character.

Rick Sessoms and Colin Buckland describe organisational culture as:

“… a collective way of perceiving reality.  It is a set of assumptions –  or a worldview –  that is shared by a group of people.  The people adopt these assumptions as their own over a period of time. These assumptions take on increasing importance as the group adapts to the outside environment to address challenges and to solve problems.  Based on these assumptions, the group develops a “way of doing things” that works well enough so that these patterns become the values of the group. These values are reinforced by the leaders of the group as the correct and acceptable way to think, feel, and behave.”[1]

Sessoms and Buckland identify 3 primary elements in an organisational culture.


Assumptions are concepts, ideas and expectations that are taken to be self-evident and true – even if they are not. Assumptions underpin action and behaviour. You are probably sitting down right now. If so you assumed that the seat you are using will not collapse under your weight. So you sat down without a second thought. Your assumption led to, or at the very least enabled your behaviour.

Shared assumptions in organisations determine the behaviour of all who share the assumptions. Thus they lead to organisational values; ideas, concepts and goals that are considered important, and ultimately to conformance about “how we do things around here”.

Leadership Assumptions

Assumptions lead to mental images that fill out the detail, which is not otherwise set out, and lead to our behaviour.

For instance if your assumption about the nature of teamwork is based on a soccer team you will have certain expectations and will behave accordingly. Such a team is managed by a coach who determines game strategies and will direct play from the side line – the whole team must follow his strategic instructions otherwise chaos will follow. But as a player, you will be free to execute the strategies as play demands and be expected to be opportunistic, even to improvise should advantageous situations arise.

If your assumptions are based on a soccer team, then your expectations and behaviour will be quite different to the person who thinks that a team is like an orchestra under a conductor. In that case the conductor’s job is to keep everyone together as they play, as planned, in line with the master score. Improvisation is not allowed.

If you think that a team is like a well, oiled machine, as Henry Ford would have, then you will assume that every member has their own very specific job that only they will do. Faultless functioning is crucial to delivering the product. Each does their own job and will not interfere with others because a smooth and efficient work flow is everything. The leader sees each member as a component of the machine – human cogs. The leader regulates flow and maintains the machine, swapping out parts (people) as necessary to maintain output. They develop no relationship with the individual components (people). Why would that be necessary? They determine the goals and objectives, solving problems and passing their ‘wisdom’ down in terms of specific instructions to each “human cog”.

Or you may see a team as being more like a garden and the leader is the gardener. In a garden each plant is important and the gardener considers its needs so that it flourishes. Individual plants in the garden need the right environment and the right care. Each plant is individual but when seen as a whole they “work together” to form a beautiful garden. has a short series of articles entitled “The Servant Leader as Gardener” that explores this perspective. You can find them here:

So you can see that the assumptions that you have as to how a team works affects your expectations of the leader and your fellow team members. And indeed, the leader’s view as to the nature of a team will significantly affect how he leads people.

  • Take a Moment
    •  How would you model your view of team and leadership? How does that model work out in your daily leadership practice?

Invisible Assumptions

One problem with assumptions is that most times they are embedded and invisible. People are not aware of them because they are taken for granted and assumed. This means that many aspects of organisational culture exist, but no one really knows why. For this reason they are difficult to identify and difficult to change.

A good way to identify the hidden assumptions in your organisation is to ask a recent recruit what they make of things. They will not yet have absorbed “how things are done around here” and will be trying to work it out. Their fresh eyes can be very helpful.

Leaders can unthinkingly embed assumptions in the organisations, teams and churches that they lead. They do this through a six mechanisms that we will look at shortly.

  • Take a Moment
    • What assumptions can you identify that underpin your organisation?


Embedded assumptions lead to values, which are the core collective beliefs of the organisation and its members. These values are expressed in attitudes and behaviours and set inherent priorities. Therefore it’s the values that are actually held that are of interest, not the ones that should be held.  For instance a declared value may be that our work will be of the highest standard. Our practice might be quite different. For instance:

A software company called SuperSoft valued excellence and had a written value statement that excellence was expressed in terms of “zero defects” (i.e there would be no problems or errors in the delivered software programmes).

Sandra, a programmer, had been recently recruited because she was technically exceptional. She was very careful to think through the detail of her software designs, and to plan what needed to be done before leaping into the work of writing the programme. As a result her work had very few errors and so she did not need to spend much time correcting them. Sandra was able to do her job well and go home more or less on time.

Sandra’s fellow programmers worked late. Why?

They were not as competent or careful as Sandra and as a result their work had many more errors and problems. Consequently they needed to work late to correct faults and still meet the schedules.

Sandra was taken to task for not being committed because she didn’t work late.

What was the real cultural value?

In practice what did the value of excellence mean? Was it that a) the commitment to excellence was shown through error free work and high efficiency or that b) the commitment to excellence was shown through working long hours, even if they could be avoided?  The written value may have been about delivering excellence through “zero defects”. The actual value was quite different.

Leaders determine the real values of an organisation by endorsing certain behaviours.

Organisation members are often aware of some of the good values but bad values are seldom discussed. This makes dealing with them very difficult. Especially as acceptance of new people in the organisation requires that they adopt the organisation’s values. This is important where the written and lived-out values are different as just illustrated.

The Long Shadow of the Leader

Studies have shown how the original founder’s values persist long after they have moved on. This may be more true in Christian organisations because the Christian world has a tendency to be conservative.

As we have seen, values may be good but they can also be bad. They may have been good values originally but circumstances change over time and they may no longer be helpful. Bad or inappropriate values lead to unhealthy and inappropriate behaviours and culture in an organisation. Unhealthy organisations have negative affects upon the people that work there, and degrade the ability of the organisation to function effectively and to be a good place to work.

In order to understand the values of an organisation it is important to understand the founder’s values.

Where values are bad or no longer appropriate, it is the task of the leader to lead his people on the journey that restores health to the organisation.

  • Take a Moment
    • What are the stated values of your organisation? Compare them with its real values; what do you learn?

Products and Practices

The final elements of organisational culture are tangible things in terms of products and practices.

The products of an organisation reflect the things they value because they seek to provide them to their customers. These are easily identified.

The practices adhered to by an organisation are the important products of its assumptions and values; we’ve looked at one example. They also include elements like the organisation’s vocabulary, acceptable dress, social interaction, use (or not) of formal titles, how conflict is handled and so on.

The way leaders behave is normally the most important catalyst in the development and maintenance of organisational practices.

It is easy to attempt to change the products and practices of an organisation, but they are the consequence of the shared assumptions and values of the organisation’s members.  If a change of culture is required then the change must go deep down to the roots of values and assumptions otherwise it will fail. This is deep-change.

  • Take a Moment
    • Based on this model how do you think that Christ-centred servant leadership would affect organisational culture?

Section 2: A New Paradigm of Leadership

In the light of what we have learned about being a Christ centred servant leader it’s time now to explore a leader’s style and behaviour in an organisational context. We have identified that much traditional leadership emerges, one way or another, from the idea that organisations are machines and its members are components of that machine.

Traditional leadership:

Broadly speaking, traditional leadership manages processes and as we saw earlier this is about viewing an organisation as a machine. Therefore, it is about maintaining smooth running, ensuring stability and consistency. It limits what people can do to previously prescribed functions and actions and constrains them to remain within the boundaries that have been set. In fact, by the definitions we looked at earlier, it is management not leadership.

Thus leaders tell staff what do, directing their actions according to a “big picture” only they know. This shuts down initiative, because it’s not required, enforces compliance and causes workers to be protective of their jobs. Needing people to cross job-boundaries or change what they do becomes a threat and has been the cause of endless industrial disputes.

Traditional leaders, therefore, need to persuade and convince (sell) people that a change is needed and that it benefits all.  Where there is little trust of the leaders it becomes very hard, sometimes impossible to convince staff of anything.

Because only the leader(s) appreciate the overall objectives and it’s their job to “mind the machine”, workers, who have closely defined and limited roles, are never invited to help solve problems or rise to meet challenges. The leader must work it out and hand down the answers and decisions.

Their role of machine minder and repair man means that leaders seek to control exactly what the machine does and with that, their focus is on controlling and supervising the workforce (the human cogs) by the exercise of power, so the machine runs well.

The Servant Leader

The servant leader leads, which as we saw is about the journey. They will need to engage in some management processes but this is in support of servant leadership, not the adoption of the machine model. They relate to staff and value them as individual people with individual needs. Together they bring about the desired result but the main focus of the servant leader is that each member realises their full potential.

They engage with the members, listening to them and seek their views, ideas and insight, thus engaging the collective wisdom of the organisation. Together they work out the solutions to challenges and problems.

The leader facilitates the achievement of the individuals and helps them coordinate their activities to collaboratively achieve the common purpose, which they all understand and share. Everyone has a view of the “big picture”.

The leader coaches individuals rather than controls them and seeks to release their initiative and creativity because the leader knows he doesn’t have all the answers.

(The secular world finds that even its form of servant leadership is far more effective than the command control leadership of the machine model.)

From the Christian, Kingdom perspective, servant leadership is about valuing people and giving them significance as they are recognised as individuals who are called to bring honour to God in the living of every aspect of their lives.

  • Take a Moment
    • Which of these two models best describes you as a leader? What might you have to do to be (more) effective as a Christ-centred leader?

A New Perspective

The servant leader approach means that we need to take a fresh look at how organisations work. In a servant leadership based organisational culture the manner of interaction between people becomes different; it changes from my goal being to deliver my outputs to the next person in the process to one of proactive collaboration, collectively seeking to fulfil are shared and common purpose.

From Hierarchical Leadership to Servant Leadership

Traditionally organisations have been seen as being hierarchical with the boss at the top, executives beneath them, then managers then staff. The energies of everyone are spent serving the goals directed by the boss at the top. Status and rewards are dependent upon one’s position in the hierarchy and progression and reward is achieved by being promoted up through the hierarchy.

Some organisational thought-leaders observe that people are an organisation’s most valuable and important asset, because they are the ones at the front-line, doing the job. The rest of the organisation is there to enable that to happen. Therefore, they say the hierarchy should be inverted. This fits in with secular views of servant leadership because it emphasises the fact that the leaders are there to serve the others. However, it still retains a hierarchy, it’s just that the workers are now at the top.

  • Take a Moment
    • Is a hierarchical model in line with the Biblical perspective?  Consider James and John’s request to sit at Jesus side. In other words, they asked that they be the top of the hierarchy.
    • How did Jesus respond?

From Jesus’s response it is plain that he does not think of things in terms of hierarchy. There is no room for it in the Kingdom. In modern organisational-speak it is the flattest of flat organisations.

The Servant “Hierarchy” is more like tipping the hierarchical triangle on its side than flipping it upside down. Each member has a role for which they are responsible and for which they are fully equipped and empowered with the necessary authority. Each role has a specific purpose in the context of the common, shared purpose of the whole organisation.

The authority question is not about hierarchical level and status, but about what authority is needed to fulfil the role, and how that authority is used. Such a situation recognises that each individual has a purposeful role and that they work collaboratively together, serving each other as necessary, in order to achieve the common purpose.

This view is a consequence of considering what Jesus taught and modelled about leadership. It’s different to the world’s view of organisation and leadership and is more akin to the Kingdom principles we see emerge in the New Testament, as it supports a Biblical view of servant leadership that is centred upon Christ.

  • Take a Moment
    • Does this change of perspective, status to role, fit with what we see in the Bible?
    • If you were charged with making this ‘New Perspective’ work practically, how do you think it might work out?


  • Take a Moment
    • Considering Church Leadership
      • In Ephesians 4:11-13 Paul sets out that in the church some were given to be pastors and teachers, some prophets and some evangelists. Is this about authority levels and hierarchy or is it about role?
      • Where elders and deacons are established is this about authority and hierarchy or role?

It may seem to be about authority and in Hebrews 13:17 the people are told to obey and submit to their leaders. However, the idea underpinning the word translated “obey” is “to be persuaded”. Being persuaded is a voluntary act, as is submission. The leaders are appointed certain responsibilities but their authority is completed by the voluntary act of those they lead.  This is not at all hierarchical but about role.

In many ways this is confirmed by the fact that those who are led are also directly responsible to God.  So, we don’t see a hierarchical structure amongst people in the New Testament. We do see an assembly of Christians, each having a different role and with that role they have the necessary authority required to enable it to be fulfilled.

[1] Culture Craft pp23. In Culture Craft  Rick Sessoms and Colin Buckland explore the factors which lead to healthy and unhealthy Christian organisations, It can be obtained as an eBook from