unCUlturers: musings on organizational culture & development (and stuff about credit unions too)
 
Organizations needs leaders. If the first name that popped into your head was someone else’s, you’re already missing the boat. 

You see, it doesn’t really matter what title you hold, what level of education you’ve attained, or even how long you’ve been with your organization. Groups, departments, organizations, teams, churches – they need leaders. They need you.

Now, I’m not saying you have to come up with some novel idea or head a project team or even be charismatic and outgoing. What I’m saying is that we need leaders. What I’m saying is that we need you.

We need ordinary folks who will step up and do the hard things. Do hard things like admitting mistakes, being vulnerable, forgiving past mistakes, and building trust. Do hard things like complaining a little less and finding solutions a little more. 

Do hard things – like really taking ownership of the direction of your organization. Too many of us think we can’t do that. We think it’s someone else’s job. We think it’s only the executives that are in charge of that. Your organization is just as much yours as it is theirs. (And really, the sooner you can stop thinking of it in terms of “yours” or “theirs” the better. Think ours.) Want something to be different? Then as someone told me recently in conversation, you need to be the change you want to see in the organization. 

Do hard things – like actually committing to change something in yourself instead of thinking that only everyone else needs to change. Do hard things like being the first in your group or department to change your behavior and encourage others to do the same. Do hard things like looking for the best in people, even though you’ve been burned before.

As I’ve said to many groups I’ve presented to, it’s about ordinary people doing some simple (but not necessarily easy) things over and over again. Before you know it, you’re leading yourself and others toward a healthier group or organizational culture. 

But if you and I want any of that to happen, we need leaders. We need you.
 
 
You can fit in, or you can stand out. You can't have it both ways.

There are scores of people and groups out there who are more than willing to describe for you to a "T" how you're to act/look/think in any given situation. Perhaps they've been there since you were a wee lad or lass, encouraging you to fit in to a given mold.

Think of all the books, scoldings, fringe religious zealots, co-workers, employees, school systems, etc, who took (and take) great pains to establish for you exactly - and often it really is a precise thing - who or what or how you're supposed to be. It can be overwhelming. And paralyzing. What becomes abundantly clear is that we're really good at enforcing the status quo, and we're often fiercely loyal to it.

"This is what a corporate cog...er...individual looks like."

"This is what an executive looks like."

"This is what a Christian looks like."

"This is what an affluent kid looks like."

And so it goes.

But if you fit in too much, you won't do anything. Think of people who do or have done things. Great things. Remarkable things. Things that make a real difference. HIstory is full of such people (Jesus of Nazareth, Ghandi, MLK, etc). Rarely do they "fit" anywhere. They do great things precisely because they're willing to challenge conventional wisdom, think outside the box (though I still loathe that expression), innovate, and be, well, different. Isn't that the very essence of the word extraordinary? Something outside the ordinary?

What groups, churches, organizations, and communities need is just those people, but sadly (though not unpredictably) they're largely missing.
 
 
You’ve got to not only be able to see the truth of the reality around you, but also tell that truth to your group or organization. This requires experience, expertise, finesse, and before any of that, a willingness to look for it. 

Lots of folks refuse to acknowledge what they see and know to be true. Some may look around their department at work or their staff at church or their team on the field and know something to be true. Perhaps their department uses a process that has at least two unnecessary and redundant steps (but it was the boss who put it in place). Perhaps their church staff has a pastor far more interested in status than in actually ministering in any meaningful way (outside the pulpit) to the people in the pews. Perhaps their team is stubbornly sticking to a game plan that may have worked previously, but hasn’t for some time now.

It’s not that these folks want to lie to themselves. But they’re certainly in denial.

Often there’s a small group, or even just an individual, who can see the truth; but that group or individual doesn’t want to speak up, because, well, the status quo is awfully comfortable. To say the Emperor is actually naked, after all, could be professional suicide. To question is to be a troublemaker, or so goes the myth you’ve bought into.

Organizations and groups that really get it will seek out someone who can see things for what they are, and further still, will stand up and talk about it. An individual who really gets it will be that person.

 
 
There's a certain posture that goes with being an unculturer and a leader. You lean, push, pull, strain, stretch. There's very little of the "wait and see" posture. Because "wait and see" usually means you're just waiting to see what life (as if it's some mystical entity) is going to do to you. That's passivity at best; cowardice at worst.

Instead, look around. Look for opportunities to move, create, initiate, innovate, and lead. Then lean in, push, pull, and exert effort toward those opportunities. 
 
 
You simply cannot be afraid to fail. Failure, you see, is really one of the keys to success. If you're not failing, you're not trying things. You're not being innovative. You're not taking risks. You're playing it really safe, which is exactly what "they" want. 

So try things. Have original ideas, and further, share them. Talk about them. Rally others around them. Don't be afraid of rejection. Who really cares if someone doesn't like your idea? It's only after working through scores of bad ideas that you're going to reach that one really, really good one. And it's only through failures that you're going to learn, improve, grow, and stretch yourself.

What am I saying? Here it is -- fail. Fail often. And fail fearlessly.
 
 
Teams, groups, organizations, churches, etc, don't need perfect leaders. They need vulnerable ones. They need leaders who have faults and talk openly about them. Faults, after all, are part of our inherent humanity. There are few things more frustrating than following someone who perceives themselves to be flawless. When was the last time you openly discussed a shortcoming you have with, well, anyone? Those on your team? In your group or department at work? On your church staff (or better yet, your parishioners)? Within your organization?  

If you're straining to remember the last time, it's been far too long.
 
 
Very few individuals, if they're honest, enjoy going to work every day in an environment filled with distrust, political maneuvering, and so many of the other ugly things that characterize too many groups and organizations. And most folks, if you ask them, would say they wish things were different where they work. In fact, a recent Gallup poll suggests that up to 77% of individuals said they were miserable in their jobs. 

So people work places where they dislike the culture. And it's not just some people. It's a lot of people.

Those same people, unless they're gluttons for punishment, wish it were different.

(Do you see the opportunity yet?)

They need leaders. They need people to lead them where they already want to go. It's not like you'd be leading them toward some undesirable state of affairs. On the contrary, you'd be leading them toward a trusting, non-political, honest, healthy, passionate culture, which is exactly what most people want anyway. So if so many people want this, why don't must people find themselves in this type of atmosphere? What's missing?

Easy. Leaders. Unculturers. They need people with a certain angst about their environments, coupled with the desire and drive to do something to make a difference. They need you.
 
 
Ghandi. Martin Luther King, Jr. Jesus of Nazareth. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther. Socrates. 

Unculturers, all of them.
 
 
Being an unculturer isn't easy, regardless of the scenario within which you're attempting it. We see this all the time, and in a variety of settings. For example, think about the one who doesn't quite fit the mold in his or her church or religious group (it's Sunday, so this example seems appropriate). Sometimes, in some groups, that's OK, granted. But other times, in other groups, it's definitely not. You can be maligned, frowned upon, looked down on, talked about (actually, usually whispered about), and so on. 

That means you've really got to believe in what you're doing. It's got to be important. It's got to be more than adopting a slogan, and it's got to be more than becoming a non-conformist for the sake of becoming a non-conformist. There must be a compelling reason. Something you believe deeply in. Something that's good, courageous, daring, and for the greater good of the group. Something that becomes more important than "their" acceptance. 

This isn't easy. Important things rarely are.
 
 
Well, I’ll provide an overly simplistic answer, and then a quick example that will hopefully clarify to some degree what I mean when I use that non-word. An unculturer is simply someone within any group or organization (any company, church, team, non-profit, community, etc) who is unafraid of being countercultural for the good of the organization, group, or even society in general. And when I say countercultural, I’m referring to running counter to the culture that is already in place within a given entity.

For example, an unculturer is one who, while functioning daily in an atmosphere of politics and distrust within his or her organization, decides to step outside the expected norm and be vulnerable, honest, and happily imperfect. That person will stick out in a place like that. And it’s because they’re representative of the unculture. That person is an unculturer.