Dear Coach: Do I Fit in With the Culture?

July 14, 2023   |   Julie Diamond

Dear Coach,

I’m someone who is driven by achieving business results, which is my reputation as well. I have deep knowledge of the industry, and I’m passionate about pushing our business to achieve our aggressive targets. I move fast and try to solve problems as quickly as possible.

Last year I moved into a new role in a new organization, and I feel that my perspective and acumen add incredible value to the business here. I am also relatively new to the company. I’ve only been here three years, whereas many leaders at my level have been with the company for over 10 years.

While I am praised for my results, I’ve also been given the feedback that I need to do a better job of building relationships and taking difficult conversations offline. I’ve been told that my style is too aggressive and that I need to find ways to deliver my message that are more motivating and create more psychological safety for the team. 

When I talked to my boss about this, she told me that if I wanted to get ahead, I needed to understand the company culture. She said, “We’ve been successful because of the way we do things. These cultural aspects just won’t change, and you would benefit from seeking to understand the right balance of pushing hard and giving in so you can fit in with the culture.”

Here’s the problem: if the company were actually successful, I would be inclined to follow that advice, but business is tough right now.

The CEO says it’s not “business as usual,” yet I’m watching everyone prioritize people’s feelings and helping others to save face rather than addressing the business realities and what is happening in the marketplace.

I’m afraid that if we don’t talk about these realities, none of us will have a job in the near future.

All this to say, I’m afraid I simply don’t fit in with the culture. Should I bail, adapt, or drive forward and accept the fact that I probably won’t progress here? 


Confused by Culture


First, let’s unpack this. Your question tells us that:

  • The business style and approach you’ve developed are essential to who you are.
  • While adapting to cultures may be useful in moments, you seem to be pretty clear that this is not one of those moments.

So, exactly how is your problem a power problem? A few thoughts:

  • It’s a power struggle between two different cultures—yours and the company’s.
  • In this case, it sounds like the company will win, regardless of your value add.
  • Your gas tank is at stake. How much energy and power do you have to put into this particular fight? While it seems you do have the power to stand and fight for your way, to what degree will that drain you? To what degree will that serve you and serve your larger goals?

What’s the Solution?

To be able to respond effectively, you must understand that no matter the organization, there will be some kind of tension between your ideals and how you want to conduct yourself and your business, and the tendencies and constraints of the culture. Every culture has its own challenges, so before throwing in the towel, we encourage you to consider the following: 

  • Is this the mountain I want to die on? 
  • Is this the fight I want to stake my career on? 
  • What are the consequences of losing this fight, and can I live with them if that happens?

If you decide to give it one last shot, know that you will be stepping on all sorts of political landmines that could easily blow up. However, if you feel ready for that risk, it’s time to reach out to those most invested in the company getting better results. 

It’s possible you’re stuck in an eddy somewhere—a subculture that doesn’t represent a broad enough picture of the enterprise—so you’ll need to find people above your boss, outside your department, and even the CEO. You know she is sounding the alarm bell, and you’re aligned with her perspective. 

If you’re truly considering leaving, you have nothing to lose, so you might as well see if there’s an opening for you to have the impact you want to have. 

Have conversations with all these folks about the culture and your challenges so you can find out whether there’s truly a place for your style of leadership within this organization. Perhaps there isn’t, or perhaps there is! But you won’t know if you don’t try.

Good luck!


Each month we answer questions we often get from the leaders we work with and unpack how at the end of the day, every problem is a power problem. If you have an issue you just can’t solve, get in touch! We’d love to answer your questions in an upcoming Dear Coach post. Find us at [email protected], or on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter.