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10 Questions Leaders Should Ask About Culture

There are many good definitions of leadership out there. Mine is simple: a leader is a culture-changer.

Leaders – all leaders – have the capacity to change the particular culture (or part of a culture) they are in. Leadership, therefore, occurs when a culture has been changed in some way, shape or form. 

It can be the culture at home or in a group of friends, on the playground at recess or in a PTO meeting, in a nationally recognized corporation or leading an entire nation. Leaders may be bad leaders by changing the culture inappropriately or unawares. (Hitler, by definition, was an effective leader in changing the culture all throughout Europe – though in horrendously evil ways.) Christian leaders are ones who are led by the direction of the Holy Spirit, who illuminates a new ‘culture’ in the mind of a leader which is designated for a group of people to accomplish God’s purposes (think of the stories of the biblical examples of Moses, Joshua, the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah, Samuel, King David, Esther, Peter, Paul, etc).

Leaders can be great leaders, effectively laying down their own personal preferences in order to rally a group of people to a greater mission larger than themselves. Good or bad, subtly or dramatically, leaders change the status quo. By contrast, a manager is a culture-maintainer whose goal is to keep the system exactly as is. It is important for us to remember that we need both leaders and managers (as well as followers) in our cultures and that not everyone can or should be a leader.

If a leader is a culture-changer then it’s important to be a tireless student of the current culture and to ask wisely and courageously what type of culture is needed to build a hopeful future. A leader is constantly asking, what parts of our current culture should stay – and what parts should change? To answer these questions, leaders need a healthy dose of both wisdom and courage. Wisdom without courage leads to inaction, and courage without wisdom leads to destruction.

In light of this definition, Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly asks a series of incredibly thoughtful questions about culture that are important for all leaders. Consider spending quality time reflecting on these questions:

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J.R. Briggs serves as Cultural Cultivator of The Renew Community a Jesus community for skeptics and dreamers in Lansdale, PA – a suburb of Philadelphia, which he helped start. He is the founder of Kairos Partnerships an initiative that partners with leaders, pastors and church planters during significant kairos moments in ministry.