Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

The Truth About Organizations

In his excellent book “The Answer to How is Yes,” Peter Block makes three fascinating points about working for institutions. I’d be curious to know if based on your experience you would agree:

1) The higher you go up in an organization, the more anxious the people are. I see this often in non-profits and religious organizations. Managers who are terrified of the leader, scared of their performance, and generally miserable.

2) Retirement parties are often the first place where truth is told in public. Once the hold on employees is over, they’re finally free to say what they really think. They are no longer vulnerable. They are bulletproof. They may get shot at, but now, they don’t feel the pain.

3) The winners in our culture have little capacity to criticize themselves. This is why artists choose freedom over safety. In most organizations there is little room for critique at the top.

What are the trade-offs at your organization? Do any of these characterize your company, church, non-profit, or ministry?

What would it take to change?

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  1. Point 1 hits home.  I'm convinced more and more, that there's a vast difference between the Institution of the Church and the organic Church.  The institution of the Church far too often relies upon shame and guilt to motivate people to be involved in things and do things for the organization that very often has very little to do with true ministry.

    Leaders of such organizations have a vested interest in perpetuating this cycle and they are the ones with the most to lose when the gloss comes off and people see that far too often, the emporer has no clothes.

    It's sad to say but true … I've grown more in my Christian walk not being in Church work anymore.

  2. An artist in the church setting certainly chooses neither freedom nor safety. How can we fix that? I'm working on that, but surely against the grain of our larger church ministries.

  3. I've spent about half my media career in the secular field and the other half in Christian endeavors; of the Christian work the split is about 50/50 commercial vs. non-profit.  Every person's story is different but in my experience I have found generally higher standards of conduct and more transparency in the secular places of employment than the Christian ones.  Not that the Christian companies/organizations have been totally sloppy or lacking in standards.  But when it comes to best practices, empowerment of employees, assigning responsibility with the commensurate authority to do a job…things like that…the secular companies and managers win hands down.

    I work for a Christian non-profit that could soar if the leadership would relax its grip on people.  Their penchant for micromanaging, their knee-jerk reactions to criticism from large donors, their lack of long-term vision, goal setting and internal communication and their unwillingness (or inability) to embrace a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset, is literally choking the life out of the organization.  It's the workplace manifestation of a legalistic view of faith and life.

    Point 1:  Yes.  And the outcome of that is that they freeze in place, concerned more with their own performance (or the perception of it by higher management) and those who work for them suffer for lack of real communication and interaction.  People just duck their heads and hope to get out of the building by 5 o'clock without anything bad happening.  

    Point 2:  I've personally never experienced that.  Most of the people I've seen leave fake the gratitude expected by the company and move on.  Trust me, if they're speaking out, perhaps not publicly but on blogs or to friends or even competitors, they've done it before they exit the building the last time.  Speaking the truth in love is a nice principle but in reality it only brings suspicion and a questioning of motive and spirituality.

    Point 3:  In my experience that is generally true, but more in Christian work than secular.  I'm not sure if it's spiritual smugness, a fear of failure (which would be a bad reflection on their presumed spiritual superiority), an unwillingness to be introspective or a lack of desire to hold oneself accountable not only to a board of directors or management group but to every employee – that is, having a servant mindset – but there has been less inclination for honest self-examination in the Christian leaders I've worked for than those in the general marketplace. 

  4. like bart i worked for a church for almost ten years. my christian walk has increased 100 fold since leaving their employment.

    churches want to have it both ways. they like to think ot themselves as fortune 500 companies but want to use mon and pop tactics to run the organisation. 

    whenever there was a problem i  was reminded that servants must be submitted to their masters and that the business side of the church was different from the spritual side. how can this be if the pastor is the so called ceo and he is also my pastor.

    i think until churches stop seeing themselves as a "family business" and employees as trying to control the "family business" we won't get very far.

    i prefer working in seculer media. people tell you up front what they think and what they expect and you can have an honest discussion and artistic freedom.

    when your pastor is also then "ceo" run to the hills…

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