Archives For January 2013


“Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me. But this is the hurt of purging and precious renewal ~ and these are the mirrors of dangerous grace.” ~ Walter Wangerin Jr.


Last week, I wrote that for a leader to inspire authentic culture change in an organization, he or she must do three things:

  1. Facilitate a process to help the culture see itself as it is right now.
  2. Enlist (not force!) the members of the culture toward a more compelling vision via an open honest conversation about who we are and who we want to be.
  3. Fully embody the new culture he or she wants everyone to live. Go first.

Here’s what I mean by these:

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“Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.” ~ Richard Hooker

I’ll bet you’ve seen those nature shows where a school of fish reshapes itself into a ball when threatened by a predator. Every time I watch a scene like that, I’m mesmerized by it. It’s like this collection of individual life forms somehow transforms itself into a single entity, becoming this cloud of life that moves and reacts to its environment as if it were one creature rather than a collection of hundreds. How do they do that? How does this balled-up life form decide where to go, how to move in response to a predatory threat? It looks for all the world like those hundreds of fish are operating with one mind. But where is that mind?

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Fish Bowl

“We are not made of skin and bone, we are made of stories.” ~ Sue Monk Kidd

Culture is the lens through which we see the world. It shapes and shades absolutely everything about our lives, and ourselves. I like that well-known quip about two fish who went out for a swim one morning. Along the way, they ran into a third fish, who greeted them warmly and declared, “The water’s great today, isn’t it!” before swimming on past. But the two fish just looked at each other quizzically and asked, “What’s water?”

That’s how most of us experience culture. It’s the bubble around us that we don’t see, but through which we see everything. This is true whether we’re talking about our national culture, our family culture, or the culture of our church or organization. Culture is ubiquitous in this way at all levels of our experience for the simple reason that it is essential to our human journey. We don’t have instincts as animals do; so the only way we learn to survive in the world is by being taught. Sometimes we learn from our elders; sometimes we learn from our peers. But the end result of all the learning we assimilate ~ about what the world is, how it works, and our place in the grand scheme of things ~ is what we call culture. Culture tells us who we are, and defines for us the story we are living.

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