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What Is Your Religion?

All the rules have changed about religion in politics in my lifetime. 

Guidelines for candidates moved from topical avoidance, to optional discussion, to mandatory personal sharing. 

It’s still changing and still treacherous territory, so at the highest level of the game we know it is carefully scripted; gauged for the immediate audience. But  those running for office believe that  the voting public want a clear answer that fits within a framework. 

George Clooney as presidential candidate Mike Morris in The Ides of March (2011) avoided that framework, saying “I am neither a Christian, nor an atheist. I’m not Jewish or Muslim … my religion is written on a piece of parchment called the Constitution.” 

This year Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is speaking to a growing segment of people who see spirituality as separate from religion, while other candidates are quoting the Bible frequently.

The word “religion” is somewhat individualized, whereas we often use “religious” about all sorts of things that are not part of a named religion - your friend who works out religiously six days a week;  a coworker who is religious about getting coffee from Starbucks every morning, and the people who never leave a balance on their credit cards are religious. These all reflect actions and practices that connect to beliefs,  as shown here, “religious” about the body, caffeine, and debt. 

The word religion itself has its origins in Latin, signifying binding, unifying, and linking back. As such, religion can be seen as a set of practices and actions that continually reunite us to something else; to something bigger; to our core beliefs. 

 Part of the definition also corresponds to repetition and discipline.  Watch me for a few days and you’ll not only learn my habits, but also what I believe in from what do I repeatedly.

So, in your organization, what’s your “religion?” (Oh yes, this blog is about organizations and leadership!)  What do you do repeatedly and what beliefs are reflected? Here’s a quick set of questions in three important areas.

Internal Communication, including Meetings

* How much is communicated religiously through what means and patterns? 

* Do you rely on e-mail over meetings? 

* Are there formal meeting norms, agenda setting and results? 

* What’s the most common channel for employees to learn about important changes?

These answers can identify beliefs about what people need to know to support the mission.

 Customer definition

The human service sector is blessed and burdened by diffused “customers.” Our values are set by what the end-beneficiaries need; our processes set by the buyers who are paying for the service. Therefore:

* What are the definitions we use?

* What do we do about conflicting demands?

* How do we measure what the diverse “customers” want from us? 

* If we say we’re religious about customer service, what repeated behaviors display that?

Investment in People

* When it comes to hiring, what are the routines that never vary and do they serve the end goal? 

* Where in the employee life-cycle does the bulk of training occur?

*Are managers taught to lead?

“Religious” practices – in the sense of routine actions that connect us to our beliefs – are a big deal. 

“In our organization we are absolutely religious about….” 

Answer that and you’ll clarify what you believe in.