On a day in February, my son Luke and I headed to Old Rag, a mountain in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains. The weather was cold and windy, but the sun still shone. I had heard that this was a great 10 mile hike with some rock scrambling at the top, the kind Luke and I live for.
The frozen mud trail started out incredibly steep, marked with the footprints of those who made the climb on earlier, warmer days. Luke and I hadn’t gotten out to hike mountains in a while, so we were a bit out of shape, making the stretch particularly difficult. We pushed through, knowing what was up ahead… the rock scramble.
After a couple of short stops for water and a breather or two, we made it up the steep 3-mile, 1,700-foot incline. Yes! The rock scramble.
I had an incredible time climbing Old Rag with my son, but, throughout the length of the hike, I kept thinking about that initial incline. That portion of the trail felt a little too familiar. It reminded me of the workplace culture.
It was a culture that had been around for decades. The only way my team and I were able to conduct business was by following those “frozen footprints in the mud”. I went into that workplace with a positive attitude. I felt that I would be able to influence the inflexible environment, but, after six months, I was still battling against it.
It felt like it wanted to suck me in and make me conform. I witnessed people from outside the culture enter and get sucked in from their very first interactions.
It discouraged me.
Some days I feel beat down. But, as I reflect today, doing so encourages me to stay focused on what’s ahead. It gives me the fortitude to have a positive influence on other leaders, making them aware of challenges, helping them overcome the sucking pull toward conformity, and encouraging them to support others. There’s a positive place in the future and leaders have to remain focused upon it. You must push through the initial, challenging climb to get to the rock scramble beyond.
- What do you do when you and your team are working within an untrusting, unhealthy culture that has been around for decades?
- How do you keep your team motivated through all the finger-pointing?
- How do you stay positive when the culture says, “No we like the way we are doing it!” every time you try to improve processes?
- How do you stay positive when every suggestion that you provide is debated and then disregarded?
I’ve had to face these challenges as an individual and as a team leader. It was tough to stay positive. There were meetings, both one-on-one and with teams, where I had to pull people out of a tailspin of negativity in regards to everything we were trying to accomplish. I had to keep my team members focused on the goal and vision of our mission. I came out of these discussions feeling drained, but they were part of my job. After a while, I realized they were the most important part of my job. They had the biggest impact on the overall success of the project.
“If it isn’t a CHALLENGE, it’s not worth doing.”
Now, as I reflect upon those experiences, I can see the positive within them. They were challenging and an opportunity to grow. I’m always up for a challenge.
Did you hear and feel the click? My perspective just changed.
Perhaps you’re in a place where it feels like there’s no way out. Maybe you are stuck within a culture you don’t agree with. My challenge to you is:
- Reflect on the culture you’re working within and identify its positive and negative aspects
- Find ways to stay focused on the purpose of the work. Keep your team focused on that purpose, as well.
- Set an example for your team by approaching challenges with a positive perspective.
Stay focused on the rock scramble. Be an impactful leader, instead of losing sight of your goals and succumbing to inflexible environments. If you can do that, then you’re setting yourself up for success, and you’re creating an example for those around you.
Are you ready to uncover what your organization’s culture really looks like? Are you eager to truly understand your team’s mindset? The FiredUp! Culture team can help.
Paul is part of a dynamic team of passionate change agents who are dedicated to partnering with organizational executives to create cultures that inspire, engage and ignite the best in people. Our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.