rsz_2013-08-31_094024There are leaders who spend time determining the next step in their careers but they don’t put the same effort into evaluating work cultures that are compatible with their values and needs.  Because of their lack of preliminary research, these leaders sometimes end up doing something they love in an environment that stifles their growth.

In toxic organizations where pettiness, politics and other counterproductive actions perpetuate the need for self-protection, growth is very difficult.  Therefore if you are a leader in self-protection mode and you would like change the culture to one that supports an open, growth mode you have to prepare by transforming yourself. Here are a few preparatory actions you can take:

  1. Don’t allow an environment to influence who you are and how you interact with others. Always see yourself as empowered to exercise choice even though it may appear that you do not have one.
  2. Determine if you are in the right career, then seek to understand if you are in the right role. If you will remain unhappy because you are not in the right career, it will be difficult for you to sustain changes.
  3. No work environment is perfect but your current workplace may not be the best fit for you. If you decide this is the case, create an exit plan that can successfully transition you to another department or company. If you believe the change will bring positive outcomes, then invest in yourself.

Once you start on your developmental path you will need the support of a coach or mentor because, because as a leader or business owner, you are one of the architects of your organizational culture so you need to be very consistent. Here are tips you can use to transition your culture to one that helps you create an environment that supports your team with achieving organizational goals:

  1. Be aware of the fact that changes will sometimes be necessary within your leadership team. Key leaders who have played an integral part in the success of the organization, may be perpetuating the old norms because they are either unwilling or unable to modify their behaviors. This can mean that they may have to be replaced by persons who can hold the culture accountable to the newly defined standards.
  2. As a leader, you will not only have to demonstrate new behaviours, you will need to be consistent. For instance, if your culture is one where team leaders tend to humiliate employees for contributions that differ from theirs, in order to change the culture, these leaders will need to always demonstrate responses that set the stage for open and honest communication, one where it is safe to share diverse views.
  3. When changes are introduced to the organization by the Board of Directors or executive team, the initiatives will need to be as clearly defined as the accountabilities to the new behaviours. One way to achieve this is to introduce these accountabilities to performance appraisals or other similar tools. Another way is to bring in or develop leaders to hold persons accountable without demonstrating a threatening tone.
  4. In addition to consistence and role modeling, leadership characteristics of confidence, action orientation and authentic connection can support the cultural transformation process. These behaviours support buy-in, engagement and trust.

Change is multifaceted, riddled with multiple triumphs and set-backs. A great plan can be designed to minimize the number of surprises along the way but your ability to lead can also buffer the team from the uncertainties introduced by a change initiative. During the uncertain period, leaders should be aware of:

  1. What you pay attention to;
  2. How you react or respond to critical incidents;
  3. How you achieve results;
  4. How you allocate scarce resources; and
  5. The criteria you use to reward employees.

Awareness of your behaviors can help you shift to new, productive ones that can lead to playing your part in embedding new and desired norms.

In the midst of any cultural change process, your team needs to you to model the desired behaviors, hold them accountable to those behaviors and to be empathetic when they fall short of your expectations. Errors in planning and execution are inevitable and can compound uncertainty and fear when navigating through a change initiative so patience and a supportive demeanor are essential to success.

Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.  If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.