Three times in the last week I was asked, “How do we change a work culture?”  My answer is that it starts with you, with me, with each one of us. We’ve heard the abbreviated form of a quote from Gandhi enough times that it may have become a cliché. However, that doesn’t diminish the wisdom of it: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  According to historians, here is what he really said:

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine master supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” —Mahatma Gandhi

We tend to underestimate our own power to create change, one person at a time, but that is how all change happens. If I were to ask you what kind of organizational culture you’d like to be a part of, you would likely include many of these qualities:  

  • It’s open and inclusive to a diverse group.
  • My value and contribution are reflected not only financially, but in the way I’m treated as a significant member of the teams I’m part of.
  • There’s a positive energy that is tangible.
  • People are kind.
  • Colleagues assume positive intent, rather than suspecting the worst.
  • Ideas are welcomed from everyone.
  • People here focus on the potential of each person, each idea, in a very supportive way.
  • This is a culture of investing in each other, interdependently.
  • People here are interested in me as a whole person, not merely my job description.
  • There is an atmosphere of light-heartedness and fun—there is evidence that people are glad to be here.
  • People here believe in our mission; the contribution is meaningful to society.
  • Systems and processes are constantly being improved based on input from all of us—we have a voice that is heard, appreciated, and acted upon.

As you look at the above list, think about how you, personally, embody that ideal in the culture.  For example, in your organization, are you part of an exclusive clique or do you go out of your way to include other employees in lunches and other gatherings?  Are you kind? Are you more likely to assume positive intent or assign blame? We tend to attribute responsibility for a positive and healthy culture to the company, the CEO, or the HR department.  The truth is, each of us defines our culture by the way we show up on a daily basis.

Is it tough to live up to our values when the colleagues around you are gossiping?  It may be challenging, but if we want an environment where people can flourish, we must step up to the challenge.  There must be those who champion the ideas and the culture, and as we do, others will join us.

Today, as you move through your workplace, challenge yourself to bring what you would most want the ideal culture to evoke from you and allow that to inspire you and others to raise the bar. One moment at a time, each of us has an impact on the energy our environment embodies.

To learn more about how we help leaders and teams be more innovative and operate more interdependently, visit our website at

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