Crisis Reveals the Culture

One thing that has stuck out to me regarding the pandemic and all of the seemingly chaotic events of 2020 is how people and organizations are handling things. This especially sticks out in groups of people or organizations. Organizations with a solid culture, leaders who have done the work of intentional culture creation, seem to have a better, more confident handle on decision-making and forward progress.

Leaders are learning along with everyone else. But great leaders are learning and leading in a specific way during these times. They are leading through their culture. And if their organizational culture is healthy, their leadership is more successful.

Culture is tricky.

A lot of leader, in fact most, would say they believe their company or organizational culture is important. Many try to steer that culture early on. Companies like Zappos and churches like North Point are great examples of culture driving the overall success. But there’s something nuanced about culture. Something we need to understand to lead well. Something we must grasp to be part of the solution instead of adding more problems.

Culture is created and culture creates!

A Created Culture

Culture is created in any organization. Your group, company, nonprofit, church, school, etc has a culture. It has been created over time. Time making decisions. Time together with the team. Time with customers, clients, or members.

Culture is created over time. But that culture is developed through people. And culture development happens one of two ways…intentionally or unintentionally.

  • Intentional Culture Creation – This happens when leaders inspire people to live and work a certain way. This is the consistent “my pleasure” from Chick-fil-a. It’s the quality of Disney films and customer experiences. It’s the thing you feel when you interact with a company or organization, and that thing you feel is there on purpose. Every church has a culture. It’s the words used in gatherings and groups. It’s the way people dress, the style of music, and the level of service at a service. You feel it when you walk in. Crisis puts a magnifying glass to this culture and leaders who’ve done the hard work of intentionally creating the culture over time.
  • Unintentional Culture Creation – This culture is rarely ever explicitly stated or set as a goal. It’s being created over time, through people, but not on purpose. Unintentional culture creation is rarely, if ever, positive or healthy. There may be ascribed values, but no one enforces or inspires them. Leaders are okay with their organization saying one thing and doing another. Guess what? When crisis hits, there’s still a magnifying glass on the team and leader. Only now, it’s revealing glaring holes. It’s shining a light on implicit and explicit values. It’s highlighting the gap between who an organization says they are and who they are, really. Crisis never ruins the culture; it always reveals it. As it is. In bold, new detail.

Created By Culture

Culture isn’t just created, it’s creating. All of the time. A healthy culture is creating healthy processes and people. There are people being raised in and around your organizational culture. You may call them clients or members or customers or scholars. No matter what you call them, they are experiencing you.

They are experiencing the group, team, or company, but also the leader. Everything rises and falls on leadership. This includes culture. As a leader leads and others follow over time the culture is adopted and adapted and people are assimilated and associated with that leader.

Your organization has a wonderful opportunity to create what it wants and how it wants to be in the world. Simultaneously it is going to create people who live in the world a certain way. We are created by the cultures with which we associate.

This is good and bad news.

It’s bad news for those in a church culture which protects abusers. Or for those associated with a company who repeatedly mistreats and undervalues employees. Or for those who attend a school which is satisfied with sub-standard performance.

It’s good news for those in a church culture that loves everyone without question, stands for justice, and humbly proclaims good news. Or for those in a company which consistently values employees and helps them grow as a person and leader. Or for those whose school maintains high standards in academics and social development.

Think about those organizations, groups, teams, or companies with which you belong, experience, and participate. What is their culture like? How have they handled crisis? Have they maintained their humanity? Are they losing confidence or building it?

Then, think about yourself. Are you participating in a helpful way with these organizations? Are you trusting leadership while also showing grace? Have you been as flexible as necessary during these uncertain days?

WE are all creating culture and being created by it. What has crisis revealed about the cultures in which you interact? Join the discussion by sharing your thoughts below!


Culture in a Crisis
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