How Your Workplace Culture Holds You Back
Late-Stage Leaders Who Cut the Cord – “Over time, in my career, the more I developed, the more alienated I felt from my colleagues. When I tried to explain my view of the world, I would see perplexed faces. People assumed that I was either over-intellectualizing, making it complicated, or they just didn’t understand what I was talking about. The only reason I stayed so long was because I developed a network of external contacts, mainly consultants, who, when I called them, would reassure me that I was not going crazy. Eventually, I realized it was time to go.”
Beware the Cultural Bungee
Individuals tend to have a vertical center of gravity, but so do the organizational cultures they work in. Some companies are very Conformer-orientated (“Fit in and don’t rock the boat.”), others are Expert-oriented (“Who is the most qualified here?”), while others are Achiever-oriented (“It’s about the results you deliver.”).
This is important because an organization's culture is like a bungee cord. The more an individual tries to pull out ahead of it, the stronger it pulls them back. I have watched many leaders grow beyond the leadership culture that they are working in. Some find a way to pull the organization forward, but most get worn down and either revert to acting like everyone else, or they cut the cord and leave. Sadly, organizations lose their most vertically developed leaders at an alarming rate.
People benefit from learning strategies for working in a culture whose vertical center of gravity is different than their own:
When Your Stage is Higher Than the Organization’s – These leaders often feel constrained and held down. Many feel frustrated that peers don’t ‘get’ things the way he or she does. Some find ways to interact with people from the full spectrum of stages, though it takes energy. Organizations should identify late-stage leaders and make sure they feel supported and well utilized. Those who find the right roles can be visionaries and transformational leaders. Those who do not often feel isolated and leave.
When Your Stage is the Same as the Organization’s – These leaders often feel comfortable, energized, and a good fit. They are surrounded by like-minded people, so it is easy to form strong bonds and feel like they belong. However, while the culture may feel comfortable, it may not challenge and provide opportunities to stretch beyond one’s familiar mindset. To grow these leaders, organizations need to give them more heat experiences and expose them to diverse groups of people across and outside of the organization.
When Your Stage of Gravity is Below the Organization’s – These leaders often feel that the organization pushes them to think and act in ways that stretch them. Leaders may feel a combination of challenged, anxious, and in over their heads. They need support and encouragement from their bosses and peers. Cultures like this often cause you to grow, whether you want to or not.
Application for Practitioners:
When developing leaders, consider both the individual's stage of development and that of the culture. If you believe that most of the leaders in a program are already more vertically developed than the culture, be wary of pushing them to vertically elevate even further. Instead, focus on developing range so that they can skillfully navigate the current culture and lead others forward. If you have access to senior leaders, consider the appetite for evolving the culture itself. I have found it is easiest to start with individuals and build enough wins and partners to then move on to the culture.
This is an excerpt from my latest whitepaper Lessons in Vertical Leadership Development.