Previously, we’ve looked at unhealthy Christian organizations. Unfortunately there is a pattern of unhealthiness in some organizations, and many struggle with working in such an environment. I’m talking about a pattern that is both real and widespread. Some organizations really are unhealthier than others, and, unfortunately, I’ve seen it––as you probably have as well.
It’s interesting, however, to look “behind the curtain” of both healthy and unhealthy churches, organizations, and denominations. I’ve worked with both. My own denomination has remarkable pockets of unhealthiness. (When I first ran a series on unhealthy organizations, key leaders would call my boss to complain that I was writing about them.)
So, how does an organization move from unhealthy to healthy? Well, it is not simply something we can “will” into existence. Instead, it takes a process.
The organization has to admit it has a problem.
I know it’s cliché, but the first step toward health truly is admitting that you have a problem. Most unhealthy organizations act like they don’t want to know the truth and do everything to avoid admitting it. I once suggested an employee survey in such a place, and the response was quite telling: “We can’t do that because it will give everyone an opportunity to complain.” Indeed it might––and, I said, maybe you should listen. All organizations are made up of sinful, fallen people. There has to be enough freedom for those individuals, especially those in leadership, to be able to say “We are off track. We repent. God help us.”
The organization has to admit that sometimes unhealthy cultures come from unhealthy leaders.
This is easily observed in the change that takes place with rising leaders as they come into closer proximity to existing leadership. Who are they becoming? With increased proximity, do you see the development of maturity, discernment, and the ability to address problems within the organization? Or do you see individuals jockeying for position, power, and limited privileges? One of the best things any leader can do is to lead through his or her own failings––and to admit them. We need to be able to say things like, “I lose my temper sometimes, and I am sorry.” One of the best things a developing leader can do is to ask oneself as he or she grows closer to an organization’s leader––is your respect for that leader growing or diminishing? Are you being challenged to a higher level of character and integrity or being asked to lower it?
Those who are empowered by the bad leadership culture will need to work hard to resist a move toward health.
This may be the most difficult, because these are typically the same individuals who have thrived on the dysfunction and hardly want it to be seen. I recall one leader who would sandbag every attempt at internal analysis because he knew what it would find. He knew the organization was unhealthy and had managed to manipulate it for his personal gain.