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Haiti’s Flag

Across the symbolic coat of arms on Haiti’s flag, there is a banner that reads, “L’ Union Fait La Force,” which translates as “unity is strength.” It’s a beautiful saying that resonates deeply with Haitian people, but it is so far from the current reality in the country as to seem laughable if it wasn’t so downright depressing. What’s intended to inspire a shared sense of purpose points instead to a source of pain, frustration, and disillusion. With a history plagued with political instability, natural and man-made disasters, and terrible leadership (both foreign and national), Haiti has become one of the most socially and politically fractured societies on the planet. Local leaders regularly exploit the anger and distrust that permeates the culture just to carve out a bigger piece of the pie for themselves, further compounding the division. Decades of heavy involvement from the international community along with billions of dollars of ill-spent aid have not helped, leading many Haitians to believe that there is actually an international conspiracy to keep them in a state of disunity and subservience to the West. The notion is not as crazy as it might sound. I once had a conversation with a US government official who had spent his entire career trying to “fix” Haiti using the familiar tools of taxpayer money and technical know-how, only to admit that it hadn’t worked; yet as a well-compensated technical expert himself with a multimillion-dollar budget to spend, he was ready to soldier on. I realized then that corrupt Haitian politicians aren’t the only ones feeding from the dysfunction. Sadly, many Haitians have simply lost faith that things will improve, leading them to search for opportunity elsewhere or stay and try to make the most of the status quo. 


These dismal dynamics are not unlike those found within many organizations that don’t live up to their own stated values. “Honesty”, “integrity”, and “people-oriented service” are among the staples of corporate values while Christian organizations might include “Christ-centered”, “humility”, and “stewardship” (trendy leaders might even throw in a “go the extra mile” or “live passionately”), yet how well do these values actually reflect the inner workings of organizational life? What role do they play in leadership’s decision-making and how are they experienced by the employees? Preoccupied leaders tend to treat their stated values as little more than a motivational tool for pep-talks at corporate events. Day-to-day operations are often governed by an altogether different set of unspoken but powerful values which might include: “protect the boss’s image at all costs,” or “check the boxes and don’t make waves,” or maybe even “just make sure you seem better than your coworkers for your own survival.” It doesn’t take long for employees to discern the real values at work in the organization and if there are glaring inconsistencies, they will either start looking for the exit or adapt and settle with a heavy sense of disillusionment. The best leaders understand that they are first and foremost culture builders and that to instill a set of values, they must make those values actionable both by exemplifying them personally and strictly enforcing them with others. Leaders that love to lavish praise and reward on their staff should align their affirmation with behaviors consistent with the cultural norms to which the organization aspires. Likewise, leaders that feel the need to come down hard on people would do well to focus on behaviors that violate the same set of norms. In the gospel accounts, Jesus shows us both, lavishing high praise on those who by their actions demonstrate earnest faith while delivering punishing rebukes for those who only talk about beautiful ideals but hypocritically act out of a different code. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1)


Reflection Questions

What would your staff say are the real values at work in your organization? 

What was the last thing you rewarded or reprimanded? What value was behind it?

What behaviors should you be noticing to promote consistency with your organization’s aspirational values?


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