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Creating a Culture That Truly Cares
Exploring the dynamics of leadership at the intersection of support and expectations.
Last week, we explored the different ways “care” can be defined and experienced, ranging from surface level support to a more holistic and deep level characterized by high support and high expectations. This week, we’re going deeper into this model, which is based on the work a number of people have done on Centered-Set communities. Most recently, Mark Baker’s book, Centered-Set Church, provides excellent context and examples of churches that have intentionally pressed into creating cultures of high expectations and high inclusivity.
I’m expanding on his work slightly into leadership dynamics for redemptive communities as a whole. Where he positions centering at the intersection of high expectations and high inclusivity, I’m using expectations and support as the two variables to communicate the categories of leadership activity that create centering, boundedness, fuzziness, or neglection.
Here’s an overview of the model.
Leaders in organizations and communities have a choice of four different cultures to create--three of which are unhealthy and one that guides people into increasing ownership of their lives, their communities, and future health.
The prevailing culture in any organization is the direct result of the level of support provided by the community for the community and the level of expectations held for the community members for each other. Both are modeled and guided by the community's leaders.
The first choice–to be a neglected community–ends up being not much of a choice at all. It’s really more of an effect of leadership failure that over time or very quickly atrophies a community into nonexistence. Communities aren’t formed through this approach. They only die from it. The culture becomes one of abandonment. That shared experience and the resulting anxiety may briefly hold the community together, but leaders who offer neither support nor expect anything from their people will lose them.
The second choice operates at the intersection of high support for its members but low expectations for them. This is a fuzzy community characterized by a culture of relativism, where there is no real center or boundaries, so everyone who shows up even occasionally is “in.” The priority here is that everyone feels comfortable and happy. No one rocks the boat. Unhealthy behaviors are known to leaders but hidden, masked, or ignored. Fuzzy communities often prioritize surface level vanity metrics, limiting their success to participation instead of seeking deeper engagement or ownership.
The third choice is the opposite of fuzzy, using high expectations with low support to create a bounded community. A bounded community has clearly defined beliefs and behaviors that define who is in and who is out of the community. These belief and behavior sets are clear on either side of the boundary. For example, a church may say that members must believe in premillennialism and not postmillennialism, or that members must attend church each Sunday and not go to events where alcohol is served. These strict expectations for its attendees create a culture of coercion, where members tend only to comply by going up to the line but not past it. They often include a large set of doctrinal beliefs and behaviors to do or not do in order to be members of the community. Leaders and members alike are motivated by control.
The last choice is to create a centered community for members through the integration of high expectations with accompanying high support to guide people into co-ownership of the community. They are motivated by the meaning derived from their journey toward the agreed upon center, which in our Formation Community we describe in the identity section of the organization’s field guide. With this posture toward and movement toward the center, they step in and help where necessary, welcoming others into the community, and are able to grow into greater health.
Here’s a visual model I created that summarizes the types of communities, cultures they create, and motivations of each:
In which type of community do you find yourself today? In what ways are you celebrating your movement toward centered community as a leader? In what ways have you moved toward centered community as an organization? Who else is currently exploring this area that I should connect with and/or read?
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