If corporate culture were a pyramid of power, one in which you’ve spent time in the lower or outer corners, you are in a unique position to bring change to the workplace and the world. Your position on “the outside” may well have offered you the gift of clarity and the ability to see what your employers cannot.
Understanding the Game
Anne Wilson Schaef1 provides a memorable image of patriarchy: It’s akin to living in a polluted city. “When you are in the middle of pollution, you are usually unaware of it… and sooner or later start believing that that is just the way the air is.”
However, while driving towards a big city, the looming yellow-brown haze is a visible reality. Similarly, if you are distanced from upper management, you may have the advantage of seeing what needs to be changed and the personal motivation to create a new reality.
Deciding Which Game to Play
While we race to the top and “lean in,” it’s helpful to remember which game we learning to play. The majority of current business models were developed to benefit very few. These games thrive on competition, sorting out winners from losers and sacrificing oneself for the goal. Whether the goal is worthy of sacrifice is of no concern.
Everyone can learn to play this way, but should we? Is that what we truly want? Many top executives don’t even like these rules anymore. They are tired of the battling and sacrificing their lives for work, and can tell you the woes that await.
Leading From Within
My call is that of leading from within—to honor that voice inside which calls upon your moral courage to do the right thing, not just for the corporations, but for our communities.
Remembering the following principles in leadership can keep you whole, healthy, happy and shift reality for all of us.
Integrity: Most of us know when something isn’t just or moral. This applies to life experiences as well as to corporate decisions. It’s then you are posed with a choice. Do you remain silent and follow the group when you are acutely aware of the harmful pollution it’s producing? Or do you step forward to lead your corporate community towards more conscious and respectful decisions that benefit all?
Courage: Making integral decisions takes courage, particularly when it lies in opposition to the established group mentality. Demonstrating courage in small and large actions is always a challenge. So don’t wait for it to be easy. Use the resources that you’ve cultivated in life to shift the corporate paradigm. Courage is an emotional muscle that need exercise, so remember to take small risks on a regular basis.
Self-awareness: If you’re climbing the corporate pyramid from the outer rungs, you’ve likely worked through years of self development. You’re also continuing to gain inner strength with every struggle. An aware, self-reflective individual who has led a diverse life will analyze the situation from all angles and come to more educated holistic conclusions. Don’t beat yourself up for not being on the inside from the start. It’s people like you that revolutionize industries.
Community Member: While climbing the outer rungs, you’ve probably also gotten support from others along the way. This community support and connection comes with the responsibility to bring others’ voices into the conversation when they are not present. You know from experience it’s not all about you, and are therefore better equipped to voice the concerns of the individuals whom are not at the table.
Those of us who have journeyed from the outside in have seen the pollution from a distance, but we’ve also seen the blue sky; we will not make the same choices as someone who has lived in the middle of the system their whole lives. It’s similar to having never stepped into nature.
From inside the city, these folks can’t see the pollution around them and therefore argue fiercely that it doesn’t exist. However, it’s clear to you and many others that it does exist and it’s not okay. Traditional leaders can’t change what they can’t see, so you have to step forward for progress and show them where they are falling short.
Message for You
If I could stamp a message on all of your hearts, it would be to remember that your attributes and clear sight are valuable, even if the current system doesn’t honor them yet. Stay true to yourself and close to others that are walking this path. Together we can help facilitate a corporate transformation which will benefit all individuals of society.
1Anne Wilson Schaef, Womenʼs Reality: An emerging female system in white male society (Minnesota:Winston Press, 1981), 4.
How do you lead from within? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Fran Hauser, President of Digital at Time, Inc. Style & Entertainment Group, for her tips for leading!