Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Culture….It Matters!

Written by: on January 24, 2024

Defining Culture

I read a book about 20 years ago for one of my Graduate Programs. The book, Culture Matters, is a collection of essays written by social scientists, scholars, journalists, and practitioners. I read it from cover to cover, long before inspectional reading was introduced to me. It is worth mentioning that it was this book that first introduced me to Francis Fukuyama and his thoughts on Social Capital. This was two decades before he wrote Identity. I have returned to Culture Matters on many occasions, including this one because, in my opinion, it provides the best definition/explanation of culture. In Chapter 11, Thomas S. Weisner writes, “Cultural beliefs and practices are tools for adaptation, not simply fixed patterns that determine institutions. Culture is a mix of shared values and beliefs, activities organized in daily routines of life, and interactional experiences that have emotional meaning.”(1) This the most comprehensive definition that I have come across. Culture and the nuances of how it impacts the environment is currently at the forefront of my mind. When deciding what section of Rethinking Leadership that I would direct my focus for this blog, I was also facing a dilemma with my current staff that I believe stems from diverse cultural beliefs intersecting with a fixed organizational culture. I spent the greater part of my morning trying to sift through it all while also taking an honest look at what is actually possible in this unique workspace. I naturally gravitated to Chapter 5, the section on Leadership and Culture, hoping to find the inspiration for this blog but also some answers to aid in my leadership of this complex organization. Annabel Beerel states, “Without the support of the organization’s culture, all efforts at change are frankly going nowhere.”(2) This is exactly what my leadership team is facing, there is a lack of support because there is a disconnect between the organizational culture and the staff. There is also a lack of support for the respective cultures of the people that comprise the organization. Two separate issues both relate to culture and change, and both require a targeted strategy to resolve.

Leadership and Culture

“Culture is the embodied values, principles, and practices underlying the social fabric of an organization. Culture underpins the organization’s actions and reactions and connects stakeholders to each other and to the company’s purpose and processes. Culture is the glue that holds an organization together and unties people around shared assumptions, beliefs, and practices.”(3)

Over the last 8 months, I have thought a great deal about the culture of our staff, the organizational culture, and my own cultural beliefs in hopes of identifying a path forward. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I serve as Interim CEO of an organization. I understand that “when it comes to dealing with new realities, initiating change, or responding to critical events, many leaders underestimate and even neglect the influence of culture.”(4) I also understand that my ability to grow and stretch is important to my development as a leader. Beerel states, “Effective leaders are always striving to stretch their consciousness and transform themselves.”(5) As I continue to serve in a role that was originally contracted for 90 days, 8 months later I am interacting with staff that are growing weary of the interim status of my leadership role and desperately desire some permanency. Not just in leadership positions but in commitment to their growth and development. We have over utilized the phrase, “let’s leave that decision for the new CEO!” Truthfully, that is all that I have to give them on some days as there are limits to my authority. They desire and deserve a leader that can plan, execute, and evaluate and there are barriers that affect my ability to be that type of leader.

Changing Culture

What I may not have mentioned is that the Founder is still very much a part of the decision making and is also the Board Chair. Although the organizational culture is shaped by leadership, there are factors that can complicate the process. The culture of the organization, in this instance, is set by the Founder. Beerel writes, “Who shapes the culture of the organization? Everyone, yet none more so than the CEO and his or her senior leadership team. If the CEO is also the founder of the organization, his or her values will pay an even more significant role.”(6) The leadership must be committed to moving the culture forward in a way that upholds the values of the organization and honors the respective cultures of the team. This commitment must be deliberate and consistent. Beerel affirms, “A deliberate practice includes the elements of stretching oneself to higher goals, experiencing new mental demands, and receiving and being open to repeated feedback.”(7) Yet what if the organizational leadership does not want to stretch to achieve growth. And while this book provided helpful insight and practice(s), I still have more questions. The timing of reading this book and my work dilemma may have given me unrealistic expectations of finding immediate solutions. I am going to take a deep breath in, exhale out, pray, and get back to work exploring ways to make my interim role feel less temporary to my team. “What differentiates leaders is their commitment to practice.”(8) I remain committed!

[1] 1. Lawrence E. Harrison, Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000), 142.

[2] Annabel C. Beerel, Rethinking Leadership: A Critique of Contemporary Theories (New York, NY: Routledge, 2021), 126.

[3] Ibid., 126.

[4] Ibid., 126.

[5] Ibid., 130.

[6] Ibid., 127.

[7] Ibid., 129.

[8] Ibid., 129.

About the Author


Jonita Fair-Payton

8 responses to “Culture….It Matters!”

  1. Travis Vaughn says:

    Jonita, this is a great post, especially given the real-life / current reality you are dealing with. Your post has raised a couple of questions that I am processing even this week (month!). First, thank you for posting the definition of culture from Culture Matters (I have not yet read that book): “Cultural beliefs and practices are tools for adaptation, not simply fixed patterns that determine institutions.” Reading that definition raised this question: At what point does an organization’s culture dictate that an institution (a NEW institution) may need to be started due to a culture that seems too difficult to repair? Second, I’m curious what you would think about how much the culture in an organization is set due to specific decisions by the organizational leader / CEO to “change the culture”….OR….is the culture of an organization determined as much, more, or less as a byproduct of a well-differentiated leader making other decisions in a healthy way (and then the culture follows)? Not sure if I’m making sense, but I’m guessing you would have a great answer.

  2. mm Kim Sanford says:

    Your situation sounds challenging to say the least. I’m guessing you, like most of us, were scrambling to jot down Jen’s “30-second model for change” (or however she worded it) that she shared in last Monday’s call.
    1. Express it
    2. Model it
    3. Reinforce it
    Any thoughts on how that could help (or how you’ve already been doing it?)
    In any case, I want to encourage you that your caring honesty and your wisdom have uniquely suited you for this interim CEO role. You’ve got this.

    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Yes, the Model that Jen shared can be quite effective. It has been challenging for me to fully apply it to my current situation because the “Reinforce it” is often interrupted by contradictory messages and actions from the Founder. Thank you for your encouragement and your prayers.

  3. mm Russell Chun says:

    Wow, thanks for the exit marked “culture.” So instructive.

    I was reading Scott Dickie’s blog and found it refreshing that he took time off to regroup, rethink, refresh…

    I agree with him, leaders are every where and I see so many of them in this class!

    What follows is a prayer request…

    Today Stephanie Flohr age 70 arrived in Odesa (Одеса) Ukraine. She will minister to widows and seniors (Stephanie lost her husband 3 years ago). I asked her if she had purchased her body armor and she said she has Ephesians 6. Wow.

    Nate Gerber leaves 9 Feb. First to GoodSports Slovakia (Prievidze) then through Poland, to Lyviv where I have asked him to attend a Ukrainian Sports Conference. Then Kharkiv to work with Redemption Church initially to deliver food (Samaritans purse) to elderly in three villages. Too old to move, these folk on the border with Russia are in survival mode. Moving however is something to hard to contemplate.

    On Saturday I speak to Penuel (where Jacob wrestled with God), they have 300 children and need another field.

    When I look at all of the Leadership resources we cover I wonder how they could help me “lead” in these circumstances in Ukraine?

    Моє лідерство зараз перевіряється. Батьку, дай мені мудрість. (My leadership is being tested now. Father, give me wisdom.)


    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      I agree with Scott, it is essential that we regroup, rethink, and refresh. If we fail to…we will burn out or make an error that damages someone (ourselves or others) I will be praying for Stephanie, Nate and you-by name and need.


  4. mm John Fehlen says:

    I love how so many of us decided to hone in on a particular chapter and/or page of the book in our blog. That’s being selective with our time and resources.

    For you to focus in on culture is pertinent to me. I just came back from denominational meetings in San Diego, and so much of our energy was around culture – who are we and what are we doing that flows from who we are?

    I’ve been in our tribe of churches for over 30 years and have been in countless rooms having this same discussion, ad nauseam. I wonder if it IS THE BIG DISCUSSION that we will ALWAYS BE HAVING?


    • mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

      Yes, I think for a while, we will be having these big discussions around culture. It is something that is and will continue to evolve. And perhaps it’s a good thing that we commit to being continuous learners on this topic. There are so many different nuances and I admit, I don’t always get it right. But I am committed to continuing to try and learn and evolve.

  5. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Culture is such an important topic in leadership and change! In my work in Hospice the Chaplains try to keep a Culture of Soul but the “business” of Hospice takes over. We end up trying to squeeze should into the business instead of have a culture of soul that we do business from! Ugh! Thanks for your emphasis on culture and change and how hard that is!

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