How to Shift Your Workplace Culture, Starting with YOU
Even if you’re not formally in charge, you have the power to lead your workplace toward a better culture. Here’s how to start the shift.
By Lori Hanau and Claire Wheeler
You’re in a meeting, the same one you attend every week at this particular time. A person at the front of the room does almost all the talking: they ask for reports, assign tasks, and set priorities. Everyone in the room respects one another, yet there is little space for input or inspiration. No one questions the agenda, each task is assigned according to prescribed roles, and efficiency and productivity are the name of the game.
Perhaps that person at the front of the room is your boss. Perhaps that person is you. Regardless of your role, you do have the power to shift that meeting. You start with how you lead yourself in your work. You begin to shift the meaning of leadership with a number of small, courageous choices that add up and inspire others to join you.
Leadership matters because the essence of who we are as people becomes the essence of our organizations. The new leadership paradigm is about sharing power and potential in the workplace. This is Shared Leadership — the practice of bringing out the greatest capacity in everyone by empowering us all to be responsible for and engaged in the functionality and vibrancy of the whole. When everyone is a leader, conscious companies become more collaborative and less transactional, kinder and more connected, more innovative and more responsive to the market.
For any one of us, the first step in ushering in the new leadership paradigm is breaking through the belief that we are helpless to have real influence over any system or any group of which we are a part, whether we are a boss, an employee, a stakeholder, or a volunteer. Here are seven simple steps to help you start to implement change, no matter your position.
1. COMMIT TO HEALTH
Health and wellness aren’t just for at home or the gym. Making your workplace a healthy space for everyone requires your genuine commitment to being as healthy as possible in all of your interactions. This commitment means being willing to see and learn about your own blind spots, unhealthy habits, and the counterproductive ways you are trying to fit in, so that you can shift the mindset that workplace problems are always other people’s problems and not our own to address. Along with feeling more connected to your authentic self, over time you will also feel more effective.
Practice: Every time you think the problem is “out there,” immediately look within. Observe yourself. Be curious and ask yourself, “How am I contributing to this dynamic? Am I benefiting by letting it continue? What can I do to introduce a better way forward?”
2. SHOW UP WHOLE- HEARTED
Showing up to work distracted and fractured, hiding behind our screens, and dodging real human interactions is often the norm. Yet when we check out, we miss opportunities that can elevate our personal and collective potential, creativity, and satisfaction. Instead, bring all of yourself — your body, mind, heart, and spirit — to work. Whether you can do this overtly within your workplace culture or develop your own ways to practice showing up with positive intention, trust in the transformative power of taking a few moments to set an intention to bring your whole self.
Practice: Observe where you are half-hearted and unclear in yourself. Which tasks, partnerships, or responsibilities leave you feeling less than whole? Be curious as you consider why this is so. Ignore any negative stories that surface. Ask yourself what it would take for you to be wholehearted, fully empowered. Practice one new way of being wholehearted every day for the next three months.
3. COMMIT TO RESOLVING CHALLENGES
Strive to resolve any interpersonal tension as soon as possible, so that you can build a field of shared harmony and trust.
Practice: Use the 1–3–7 Rule: Try to resolve any tension directly with the other person on the same day. If you need some time to reflect and process the tension, make sure you connect with the other person about it within three days. Never go longer than seven days without connecting directly with that person. If you stall for longer than seven days, this is a lag that the underlying issue has more to do with a stuckness in you than with the other person or the situation that seemingly caused the tension.
4. BUILD YOUR OWN TEAM
Seek out others throughout your company who care to practice leading this shift with you.
Practice: Start with observation. Notice those who are naturally skilled truth tellers, holding themselves and those around them compassionately accountable. Look for the people who seem to act and share from a place of wisdom and balance. Invite them into an intentional, collaborative practice of sharing power and leadership together. Be willing to start with even just one other person. They are waiting for you and they may not know it yet!
5. USE SOLUTIONS-BASED THINKING
Traditional leadership structures often focus on identifying problems and then assigning somebody else to deal with them.
Practice: Any time an issue or challenge arises, task yourself and your team with identifying at least three creative solutions, either individually or as a group.
6. DON’T ASSUME; TALK
We can’t cultivate leadership without knowing what we mean by it. Building a shared language around leadership opens up many opportunities to uncover leadership potential and opportunities within your whole team.
Practice: Get some open dialogue going with your colleagues throughout your company. What does leadership mean to each of you? By leadership, do we mean roles or do we mean something else? What are the distinctions for us between individual leadership and power and shared leadership and power?
7. BECOME AN AIR FRESHENER
We habituate in groups to fit in, get along, and be liked. When there is strife and stress within a team or overall company culture, negativity rapidly leads to a toxic environment that we quickly get used to.
Practice: Can you track your own patterns of feeding drama in your workplace — of repetitive negative-speak, or of too often sharing your frustrations with colleagues instead of directly with the person you really need to address? See if you can become a fresh wind by speaking generatively at least 60 percent of the time.
Lori Hanau is dedicated to supporting shifts in consciousness, communication, and community in the workplace through experiential learning. She founded Global Round Table Leadership, where she works co-creatively to coach, guide, facilitate, and steward individuals and teams in opening to their innate brilliance, cultivating the soul of their organizations and their work. She is faculty and Co-Chair at Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies and on the board of Social Venture Network.
Claire Wheeler is a freelance consultant and co-conspirator for sole practitioners, community-based businesses, and nonprofits. As principal of Re:work, her passion is to translate the creative genius of people and organizations into systems and structures that make work make sense. She finds power in prose and splendor in spreadsheets.