GTSH2/4 Six Leadership Behaviours That Establish Culture

There are six leadership traits that happen in every organisational situation that determine “organisational culture”, often without the leader being aware.

Remember, that organisational culture” is “how we do things around here” and it determines the behaviour of the people who are being led. That in turn determines how the organisation behaves and consequently how it is perceived by others. Used well, these leadership traits or mechanisms can establish a healthy organisation. If misused, or used carelessly, they will lead to an unhealthy organisation with the attendant outcomes. Plainly then, these leadership traits are of importance to the Christ-centred leader as they are an important means of bring the character of Christ to bear on an organisation.

It’s sad to say, however, that many Christian organisations, like many secular ones, have dysfunctional cultures because they operate on a set of real values that are not the same as the written values. They operate on a secularly/worldly model of organisation not one that is based on the character, teaching and model of Jesus and this establishes a conflict, a discontinuity at the heart of the organisation. Sessoms and Buckland observe:

“Jesus’ leadership was founded upon a relationship with His followers, was activated by spiritual and personal influence rather than coercive power, and focused on His followers’ potential. It stands in stark contrast to many Christian leaders of organizations today who are recognized for their status, power, and personal success.”[1]

Let’s examine these six mechanisms:

What the Leader Measures

Things that are important to the success of an organisation need to be measured otherwise the leader does not know if the desired goals are being achieved. The fact that measurements are put in place brings the spotlight to bear and everyone knows that these things are considered important.  The message is loud and clear, do what is needed to achieve the desired goal as defined by the measurement.

Measuring unhelpful things will establish an unhealthy situation.

Being inconsistent in what is measured will confuse organisational members. Trying to make sense of the inconsistency they will develop their own interpretation which will affect what they do. There will be as many interpretations as there are people.  An unhealthy, chaotic organisational culture will emerge.

The spotlight of measurement alone is insufficient to determine a healthy culture. A lesson that has recently been visible, if not learned, in the UK’s National Health Service. Over years a target driven culture has been created and the expense of caring. The goal has been to meet targets and patient care became a bi-product. In some hospitals some people found other ways of hitting the statistical targets to the detriment of patient care.

  • Take a Moment
    • What do you measure as a leader?
    • What message does this give to those that you lead?


How the Leader Responds to Critical Incidents

Deeds, in the normal course of affairs, are important as they show true values. True values and the leader’s character never become clear than when response to a critical incident is required. Because the response is reactive it shows the leaders true heart; what they really think emerges, compared to what they say they think the rest of the time.  So, healthy values need to be built on character because in times of crisis character shows. Character is at work all the time and as a result a leader’s character will impact organisational culture and health. Their character needs to be consistent at all times.

A lack of relationship with the people who are led may mean that the leader fails to appreciate when something is critical to them. Consequently, the leader only responds to what they believe to be the critical issues. Failure to respond at all, let alone appropriately, to issues of importance to the team gives the message to the affected people that they are of little value.

  • Take a Moment
    • As a leader do you know what is important your people?
    • Is it that you think that these things are important or, do you know because you have found out from them?


What the Leader Models and Teaches

We have touched on this earlier on.  Suffice it to say that words and deeds must match because character leads to deeds regardless of the words used. Alignment of words and deeds is the basis of integrity and lack of integrity destroys trust. But those who are led will adopt the leader’s true values as made visible by their deeds. Such a difference between what we say and what we do is completely out of line with the character of Christ, which should be growing within us and working out through us as Christian leaders.

Leaders develop healthier organizations by establishing principles through a character driven consistency in their words and actions concerning the way people should be treated and the way goals should be pursued.  They create standards of excellence and then make themselves accountable to that standard.

  • Take a Moment
    • Prayerfully review your actions as a leader compare what you say and what you ask of others against what you do.
    • Are they aligned?
    • How should you respond?


The Behaviours the Leader Rewards

It seems so obvious that the rewards and penalties proffered by a leader declares what is important and will strongly influence the future behaviour of organisational members. Rewards and penalties triple underline values.

Rewards can be all kinds of things ranging from a financial bonus, through public acclamation to simply being noticed by the boss.

  • Take a Moment
    • As a leader, what kind of rewards do you use and how do you use them? Are you building healthy organisational values?


How the Leader Allocates Scarce Resources

If faced with more to do than can be resourced, where a leader places available resources shows exactly what is valued. Such choices often balance dissimilar things. The choice could be between employing more staff to alleviate overloaded workers and funding some pet project. If the project is chosen what is the message given to the organisational members? They are unimportant?

The allocation of resources highlights the leader’s priorities?

  • Take a Moment
    • How did Jesus spend his time? What were his most important uses of time? What does this say about his priorities? What message would this have given to the disciples?


Who the leader hires, fires, promotes and retires

When it comes to hiring, firing and retiring leaders, senior leaders usually determine the outcomes. For instance when recruiting key leaders most often they make the selection. They have a specific view as to the type and character of person needed. This means that the leader’s affinity for people who meet their, perhaps unwritten, profile of assumptions and values will be preferred.  Very often this profile is very similar to the recruiting leader’s own character. Similar factors apply when it comes to promotion of leaders. The opposite is true when it comes to firing and retiring people.

The net result is that the leader-based cultural assumptions and values of the organization are strengthened and established, because the people that the leader gathers around tend to be out of the same mold. They have similar outlooks. So these people can establish and lock in a culture. Thus, there is a tendency for an organization to reflect the character of the senior leader. Leaders in this group may remain in the organization for many years, they may still be there long after the recruiting leader has left, but they ensure his assumptions and values remain.

  • Take a Moment
    • Whose character should a Christian organization reflect? That of the leader or that of Christ?
    • What character does your organization reflect and from whom does it come?


Review

We have seen six mechanism through which the leader’s practices can establish and embed cultural assumptions and values, many of them unwritten and not acknowledged.  These practices establish that culture long into the future.

Christian organisations should be distinctly Christian; that is they should reflect the character of Christ in the way they operate and in the values and assumptions that determine their culture, “the way things are done around here.”

From these six mechanism it can be seen that the character and practices of the senior leader and his leadership team , their values and assumptions, are vitally important. If our organisations and churches are to be distinctly Christian, then leaders need to be both Christ-like and Christ-centred; being squarely built on Christ’s character and building a Kingdom culture.

  • Take a Moment
    • What are your assumptions and values as a leader?
    • Are they based upon Kingdom values and the character of Christ?


[1] Sessoms & Buckland – Culture Craft pp46. Culture Craft explores these six factors in more detail

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