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

It always comes down to people

Written by: on September 3, 2015

Self-awareness. Can an organization posses it? Collectively I mean. Or is it something that only individuals within the structures of an organization can have? Is an organization a living, breathing entity made up of components (people), capable of self-awareness? Is there somehow a way to find the collective consciousness of an organization? What about instincts? Can an organization have instincts that are identifiable at its core? Principles that guide its behaviors without any (or much anyway) thought? The way organizational studies experts such as Gareth Morgan and Jim Collins write about organizations would indicate that they think so.

Morgan uses (among others) the metaphor of “organism”1 to better understand how an organization functions so if an organism can be self-aware or have instincts then so must an organization. Collins repeatedly refers to organizations as possessing traits that would normally be reserved for an individual.  Characteristics like the ability to determine the things that it “can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what [it] cannot be the best on the world at)” and “[w]hat [it is] deeply passionate about”2 require a measure of self-awareness and understanding of core instincts usually reserved for a highly developed consciousness.  Or are these really the characteristics of the individuals running the organizations?  This is where I become a bit conflicted.

Are organizations and the people “in charge” of the organizations one in the same? Do the characteristics of the organization simply emanate from the people who run them?  If so, how far down the food-chain do we look to find the genesis of these characteristics? I guess underneath all of these angst-filled questions is one very simple one… “who gets to decide?” and why? At the end of the day, try as we might to idealize effective (GREAT) organizations as being in possession of some really GREAT characteristics, it seems to me that it still comes down to the people within the organizations having them. An organization can’t be passionate about anything! But the people within an organization can. An organization can’t articulate what it is really good or really bad at but the people within it can. An organization can’t resolve itself to push diligently on the flywheel and avoid the doom loop3 but the individual people can. it always comes back to people. An organization can’t be great unless its people are great.

So, if it’s important to me that my organization move from good to great, I must be willing to move from good to great myself.  In so doing, perhaps, I will stimulate some others to be great too. And in time, the organization, being reflective of its individual parts, will naturally become great and persist.  It’s ALWAYS about the people.



  1. Gareth Morgan. Images of Organization (London: Sage, 2006.)
  2. Jim Collins. Good to Great (New York: Harper Collins, 2001) Kindle. Loc. 1670.
  3. Ibid. Loc. 2746.


About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

11 responses to “It always comes down to people”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, I wonder what “culture” and “organizational culture” has to contribute to your questions. We all hear so much about “culture eating strategy for lunch.” I wonder, in the growing organizational leadership field, if what you speak of as characteristics of an individual being attributed to an organization, isn’t related to all the talk of culture. I do think and organization and have a culture of “self-awareness.” to me that means there would be healthy communication, good accountability, and relational connectedness that the organization or at least its culture would be considered self aware. Great questions. Much to think about.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Phil and Jon,
      Great observations! This conversation caused me to stop and think about an organization’s dogma. I agree with the concept that great people contribute to a great organization. Yet, consider organizations that have had many leaders over a number of years. Rarely do organizations derive their dogma from one individual leader. Instead, the strategy, knowledge, culture, internal and external influences contribute to a dogma that is propagated over time. I’ve seen great leaders who find they aren’t the best fit within a specific cultural context. I agree with you that people make a great organization, however great leaders will still struggle when there is lacking discipline of practice and organizational knowledge. From what I’ve observed, it takes a collaborative team of skilled leaders and a solid strategy to lead an organization to greatness.

      • Jon Spellman says:

        Dawnel and Phil, sorry for the delay in getting these responses posted… I think my anecdotal (purely, no stats for proof… Caroline would NOT approve!) experiences are pointing to a situation where it is as much (maybe even more) about the people in the mid-strata of an organization that shape the organizational instincts. So, could it be that the best work a “pinnacle” leader can do for the sake of his/her organization is to make sure that lots and lots of really good people are resident in the mid-strata? Is that how the instincts become so firmly established that the leader at the “top” can be interchangeable somewhat?

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon, Really good thoughts and questions. Caroline would like your last paragraph, “So, if it’s important to me that my organization move from good to great, I must be willing to move from good to great myself.” That’s the importance of Leadership over Leader. Yet, I think a Good Leader at the top sets culture and self awareness for the rest.

    Another question…Can anyone outside of the organization have “self awareness” of that organization? It seems to me that self awareness has to come from many angles…how do we really achieve that in an organizational model?

    You got me thinking. Thanks Jon!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      “Another question…Can anyone outside of the organization have “self awareness” of that organization?” I don’t think so… self-awareness by definition requires that a person or entity be reflective. It was interesting to me in Collins’ book he continually talks about organizations with a sort of anthropomorphic slant. “The organization does….” “The organization is…” “The organization becomes…” That’s really what I am questioning, can an organization really claim self-awareness and characteristics of an individual or do we always have to look at the individual pieces of the organization.

      This is really important to me because as I seek to investigate organizational “centers” and “edges” am I looking at the the strata of the organization or am I looking at the people IN the strata of the organizations? How blurry do I let it get?

  3. Dave Young says:

    Jon, Great post, great questions. I agree with where you land that its about the people. I agree that I have to move from good to great and in as much as I’m in a role of leadership I can influence those around me too.

    My perception of the church has always been one that it is an organization and an organism. That as leaders we have to think of it both ways. Mary’s post was a good critique of why we can’t focus on one without the other.

    Another unrelated comment. I’ve noticed several times how a new Sr pastor ultimately changes the ethos of a church in 3-5 years. Maybe not radically but significantly enough to see his/her passions, gifting marking the culture. For good or less then good.

  4. Travis Biglow says:

    Praise the Lord Jon,

    And i see you have a great concept regarding how the organization should be. I know from my own experience that you cant build a church by yourself. You need people to help you do it. And it is important to have great people on the “bus” like Collins suggested. I think Collins is dealing with leadership and how great leaders motivate great organizations and how good ones lead just good ones. I liked his concepts about the level 5 leader. You have to be humble yet highly ambitious. This type of leader is bound to motivate and have people follow them when they have option not too! Blessings!

  5. Brian Yost says:

    This was a very thought-provoking post. I would like to say that a great organization could be self-aware and continue in greatness regardless of who is at the helm, but history seems to indicate otherwise. If we had all the right people on the bus and in the right seats, there would be better awareness, better organization, and even an organic self-awareness at a level rarely seen, but it still takes the right person with the right awareness to get those people on the bus and to get the wrong people off the bus. I would suspect the self-awareness of the organization is directly tied to the self-awareness of the leader.

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    I’m reading your post with a lens for your topic. It makes for a curious question: For a constructive deviant, isn’t his/her role in part to wake up an organization? help it become more aware? I defer to your expertise, Jon. From what I can comprehend about deviance, it would seem that the “constructive” part impacts an organization to help it respond more effectively. If a constructive deviant only impacts an individual, then the interaction is more of a conflict-resolution issue.
    So it makes me wonder, could the answer to your question – Can an organization be self-aware? – be a both/and? Yes, the individuals make up the organization, and have a responsibility in that place. Yet, there is something that happens organically in an organization that one individual cannot achieve.
    You are always making me think, Jon. I love it!

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Mary, I don’t know that a CD would care if the organization “wakes up” or not so long as the end result is a better whatever they are making. If they wake up in the mean time, then all the better for it but it seems that the CD really is mostly concerned with a better, measurable outcome.

      I think I agree with you that there can be a tipping point where there are enough individuals moving in the same direction that the entire ethos, the instinct of the organization can be shifted. So, for the “pinnacle” leader, the question remains, do I want my organization to thrive and persist long after I’m gone or do I want it to be a reflection of me to feed my own need for affirmation?

      It’s all about the right people in the right places after all!


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