Leadership and Culture: Part 1

I’m currently co-hosting a D.Min. seminar at B. H. Carroll Theological Institute with Dr. Albert Reyes of Buckner International. The topic of the seminar is “Leadership and Culture.” (Talk about two broad topics to fit into one sixteen-week seminar!) But both are essential to grasp the nature of leadership in multicultural contexts, which are virtually everywhere in the local-global world in which we live. I am appreciative of Dr. Reyes’ breath of experience and knowledge in leadership within many cultures and the example he sets for me as how to go about this essential yet delicate task.

David Livermore, an author we study and a proponent of “cultural intelligence,” calls for leaders to not only be aware of cultural differences among those they lead but that they must genuinely change how they see and respect those differences. He writes,

There’s little hope we can adapt our intercultural behavior in any kind of sustained way unless we actually change the way we see our fellow citizens around the world. We have to move beyond artificial approaches in which we pretend to be respectful and move toward becoming leaders who genuinely respect and value people from different cultural backgrounds. ¹

How do we “change the way we see our fellow citizens around the world?” Education is not enough. A heart change must happen for us to be genuinely effective inter-, multi-, and transcultural leaders. This is why I believe that:

Leaders who are followers of Jesus can be examples of high ‘cultural intelligence’ and the best
leading trans-culturally; that is, leading in such a way as to respect the cultures present in                followers while creating a group culture that serves the mission and the target group of the                    mission with “bold humility.” ²

I don’t have the space to illustrate this premise here, but allow me to direct you to one biblical passage that, if embraced, would form the basis of a leader’s ability to change how he or she sees and serves others no matter their cultural context: Philippians 2:1-11.

You may think you are fully aware of the cultural values that shape and guide you, but let me remind you:

Culture is to the leader what the ocean is to fish. It is what we live and breathe in but are not aware
            of until we are removed from it.

The hardest thing a leader does is to learn to live on the shore of those he or she has only seen from underwater in his or her own ocean. Duane Elmers in Cross-Cultural Servanthood reminds missionaries from the West who seek to serve in majority world cultures that,

Among the hardest tasks in life is to divest ourselves of the culture we wear so
            comfortably. ³

Following Jesus, I am convinced, is the best path to “divest ourselves of the culture we wear so comfortably” in order to serve others humbly where they live, learn, work, and play in language and actions that build bridges into their lives with the Good News of Jesus.

We have briefly addressed the leader’s need to become culturally aware in order to lead others in different cultures well, so what about the importance of culture in an organization or group?

Let’s address that topic in next month’s blog.

For now, think on these questions:

  1. If you were asked to write down the values of our culture of origin that influence you to this day, what would be on that list?
  2. If you were to compare your embedded cultural values against those Jesus calls you to as his follower, where would discontinuity appear?
  3. If you were to write down the held values of the group or organization you serve and lead, what would some of those be?

Serving With You,


¹ David Livermore, Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The Real Secret to Success, 2nd ed. (New York: American Management Association, 2015), 39, https://www.questiaschool.com/read/126460836/leading-with-cultural-intelligence-the-real-secret.

² A concept embraced by Donald J. Bosch in his seminal work, Transforming Mission.

³ Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility (p. 19). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Published: Feb 18, 2019


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