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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

30 Jul '12

Keystone habits that can change organizational culture



Eight years ago when I assumed leadership of ReachGlobal, the international mission of the EFCA I made two decisions that would radically impact the culture of the mission. The first was that we were going to place a very major focus on health: healthy staff, healthy teams and healthy leaders. The second was that we were going to develop, empower and release healthy national leaders wherever we worked.


While I knew that these two decisions were the right decisions for ReachGlobal I did not know how foundational they would be for the organizational culture long term.  I am currently reading Charles Duhigg's groundbreaking book on The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in Life and Business, where Duhigg defines these kinds of decisions as Keystone habits which while seemingly insignificant in themselves (who would argue with healthy individuals, teams and leaders?) have a lasting and long impact on the organization's culture.


The focus on health forced us to re-evalutate our screening processes for potential missionaries and we actually shut the process down for six months to rebuild it from the ground up. It allowed us to deal with some staff who were disruptive to others.


It also spawned a new way of mentoring and coaching, team training, supervisor training and a redefinition of what leadership in the organization was about. That one directional decision touched everything we did and how we did it. My book "Leading From the Sandbox" defines our approach to leadership and teams all in line with that one directional decision.


The focus on developing, empowering and releasing healthy national workers wherever we worked shifted the focus from what we as missionaries could do to how we could help others do what they could do better than us. Again, that seemingly small keystone habit changed our whole approach to mission strategy.


I would encourage all those who lead to read Duhigg's book. But I would also encourage leaders to think carefully about what key habits should define your ministry culture and realize that you can intentionally change or redefine your culture for the better by a few key directional decisions. That is, if you have the resolve to see them through. 


What I have learned is that it does not take many decisions to actually redefine one's culture. It usually takes one or two that you believe in fully and have the resolve to stick to no matter what. 


People understand that you are actually serious and that it is not the flavor of the month when you make hard decisions that are in alignment with those directional decisions (keystone habits) you have resolved to live out. In the early days of my leadership and still today I tell staff "Do not question my resolve" to see these things become reality.


All organizations have a culture that is either intentionally created or accidental. Intentional is far better than accidental. In fact, there may well be habits in an organization that are unhealthy and which should be replaced by new habits. Understanding what is and what should be is part of the job of a leader.