Influencing Culture

It is well known that children learn by imitating those around them. This is evidenced to best effect when they confidently say a word or phrase in company that you uttered in an unguarded moment and really regret! As we grow older, we continue to mimic those around us that we admire; whether it be trying to perfect the exact style of our favourite footballers kick, or fix our hair just like that actor. We copy behaviours too, particularly of those we admire; perhaps celebrities, teachers, friends, managers or parents. If we thought about it, all of us could admit to imitating others at times, modelling ourselves on someone we aspire to be like.

Have you ever considered that others might be modelling themselves on you?

If you hold a position of influence, whether as a parent, a leader or friend, chances are high that others are watching your behaviour and imitating it. Does that thought make you feel honoured, or are you squirming a little? Those of us in leadership positions need to be particularly aware that if we behave in a certain way, some of those following us will assume that we’re condoning that behaviour, that it is acceptable, and therefore okay for them to do as well.

If you hold a position of influence, chances are high that others are watching your behaviour and imitating it.

What behaviours might they see in you that you might wish them not to copy? Is there a pervading culture that has a negative effect on your group? Perhaps it is gossip, negativity, busyness or bickering. Now take a good, honest look at yourself and ask whether you have any part in perpetuating this. Maybe you don’t, but if you realise you do, now is the time to own that responsibility and begin to address it with the Lord’s help.

Sometimes, it might be necessary to openly share your error and seek forgiveness. By doing this you encourage others to follow your example of confession and humility and you can then begin the process of change as a group. Don’t let your pride get in the way of this. In Philippians 2, Paul points us to the example of Jesus’ humility, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” We are all broken people, and as leaders we need to climb down from the pedestals society places us on.

Be encouraged – this also presents a great opportunity, because people will also imitate your good habits! By modelling the behaviour you want to see, you have the potential to be a massive influence on the culture of the group you lead, whether in your community, family, work place or church.

By modelling the behaviour you want to see, you have the potential to be a massive influence on the culture of the group you lead

So what do you long to see change in your context? Would you love to see more kindness shown? Be more kind. Do you wish your group shared more openly about their struggles? Be willing to be vulnerable and open with them about yours. Do you wish your team grumbled less? Choose to find things to be thankful for in each situation you encounter and share these thoughts with your team. Do you have a team of worn out workers? Model rest and Sabbath for them, set boundaries for your own work or ministry and you will empower them to do the same. If you work yourself into the ground, many will feel the same is expected of them.

We need to be aware of how our character and behaviour influences others, and remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

Can we confidently encourage those we lead to follow our example? We can only do this if we are continually spending time understanding and following the example of Christ, modelling our character on His.

Jen Thornton
Learning Mentor for Empowering Leadership and Gift-based Ministry