Musings on Culture Change, Part 1

December 17, 2012 — Leave A Comment


“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

I was in Houston a few weeks back working with the leadership team of a faith-based organization there. We’re doing culture-change work, which is one of the most exciting things I get to do in my coaching, and also, as you might imagine, one of the most challenging.

I’ll be on a journey with this team for the next year. Preparing for the work ahead has me thinking and praying a lot about the nature of transformation. Not just personal transformation (vital and awesome though that is), but also transformation on a larger scale ~ of leadership teams, churches, communities, cities, and nations. What does it really take to inspire (or provoke!) transformational change at those higher levels? How does God do that work, and how do we as leaders best partner with Him to make it happen?

At its most basic, transformation simply means identity change. Only those who experience transformation can say from that place of deep self-awareness, “I am no longer the person I used to be.” Transformation is not, however, about becoming “someone else” ~ rather, it’s about becoming your True Self, the one God dreamed you to be from the very beginning. It’s holistic work, as it means becoming that True Self (in belief and behavior) in each of the key developmental arenas of your life, which for an individual means spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, relationally, physically, and sexually. Clearly, it’s not the sort of thing you do over a weekend. 🙂

The same principle holds true for transformation at the organizational and even the national level. Culture change isn’t just about adopting better strategies or “best practices” or other forms of behavior change, as helpful as those can be. It requires a fundamental shift in belief about Who We Are, and the Story We Are Living.

Actually, both of these elements ~ Identity and Story ~ are like two sides of the same door. They speak into  each other and co-define one another as a dancer does with the dance she performs, or a musician with the song he chooses to play. So whether we’re talking about individuals, leadership teams, organizations, communities, or entire cultures, the questions “Who are we?” and “What is the story we are living?” are really just two ways to get at the same essential information.

For the next few weeks, I want to post some of my thoughts about culture change and other kinds of transformational work. What I share may slide a bit too far into the abstract for some of you, and for that, I apologize in advance. But I’ve yet to meet a leader in the Church who wasn’t out to change the world, and I think the more we can understand about how that kind of transformational change actually happens ~ for individuals as well as for teams, communities, and nations ~ the more skilled we will be at effectively cooperating with the Spirit’s work toward that end.

Plus, I promise to land the plane eventually, and provide practical strategies for leaders to inspire transformation, particularly at the level of teams and communities. So I hope you’ll hang with me.

Meantime, you might want to read this 3-part post I wrote recently, but with a twist: Instead of exploring the Story or your life, ask, What is the Defining Story of my Church? (or my organization, or of my city?) I think what you discover may be key for getting your people unstuck and inspiring them toward a Larger Story.

Click here for Part 2.

Michael Warden

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