Culture is the intangible air you breathe while experiencing a group dynamic. It doesn’t matter if that is a family, sports team, band, or work crew. There is a culture that surrounds people who spend time together.

Culture is not the rules or values. It is the unspoken environment.

I remember walking into a small local cafe and being greeted by a sign that read, “Find your own damn seat.” I looked around the room to find most of the patrons staring at me, and I quickly realized that I was in a place unlike others I had experienced. No one said anything, no one smiled, I was clearly a stranger, and the culture screamed: “You are not welcome here!”

Culture is that invisible feeling of what brings order or chaos to environments. It is what defines the intangible sense of what it means to belong or not. The established culture in that cafe clearly dictated that I did not belong there.

The beliefs and values of the most influential members of a culture are the greatest influencers of that culture. Its leaders shape it. If you want to know why a culture is the way it is–find the fundamental beliefs of its leader. You will see how those beliefs have created culture.

Every staff has a leader. Every staff member knows the inherent values of said leader; whether those values are spoken or unspoken.

So we must ask:

Does the presence or absence of the leader shape the culture?

How does the leader’s leadership style affect the culture?

How does the leader engage conflict?

Does the leader have a high emotional quotient?

Do the words and actions of the leader match each other?

What influences the staff culture the most is the level of vulnerability, availability, qualifications, empowerment, and respect that a leader gives his or her team.

Does the leader embody their expectations or impose them on everyone else – does the leader encourage or condemn? Does the leader operate with high integrity, or do they cut corners? How does the leader expect to be treated, and how does the leader treat the team? Does the leader believe what they are saying? Do they work with the team, or does the team work for them? Does the team know the leader?

You may not be able to explain your staff culture clearly, but you do know when something fits or is out of bounds.

When I joined the staff of a large church in Pennsylvania, I was immediately welcomed into the culture. There was an air of acceptance that was demonstrated by the time afforded me by the senior leader. I was given the needed credibility and authority to carry out my given responsibilities. The culture was receptive and predictable. It reflected the good nature and personality of the senior leader.

It was the opposite of “Find your own damn seat,” more like “We want to succeed together.” That’s a culture I instantly wanted to follow—and the reflection of a strong leader. I hope your organization can say the same thing.

About the authorKevin Dixon is the Executive Pastor at Journey Church in Brentwood, TN. He is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield IL.