Maybe you are starting your first full-time post-college job.  Or maybe you are starting over in a new place.  If so, this post may be for you.

Your Situation

It’s your first week on the job.  Let’s recognize the obvious.

  • First, every job has a “honeymoon” period.  As in life, the weather changes.  When the storm comes, you will question whether you’re are where you should be.
  • Second, some conflict comes naturally.   Disagreements and feelings of frustration are not unusual.  The remedy is to understand the source of the conflict.  Is it shallow or deep?  Is it about personality or culture?
  • Third, you weren’t hired to be a change agent.  And even if you were, be patient.  According to Heifetz et al (in The Practice of Adaptive Leadership), people aren’t afraid of change, per se.  They are afraid of losing something.  Therefore, when they sense change is approaching, they become emotionally attached to what is, not what might be.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  Best to listen and learn and leverage the good already occurring and be changed yourself.

The first thing to do in terms of self-change is to take a back seat, listen, and learn. The more you know at the beginning, the better you will be prepared to deal with what comes later. What you will want to know in the beginning is the culture of the organization, and the leadership styles of those in power over you. What you want to develop is greater emotional intelligence and an understanding of what it means to be a leader. Then you can develop a short-term and long-term plan for making a difference.


Soon you will be second-guessing your decision to choose the company and job you did.  Why?  One reason is the culture of the organization.  It may not be what you expected or are accustomed to.  So it is good to understand it.

To understand the culture of your organization, begin by mapping it.  Consider Cameron and Quinn’s “Competing Values Framework” (in Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture and Organizations serve different purposes.  They  vary in terms of their values.

  • “Clan” cultures value the “development” of people and therefore seek to practice collaboration and emphasize “human relations.”
  • “Market” cultures are diametrically opposed to “Clan” cultures and value “performance.”  People within them “compete” against themselves and others.   They emphasize achievement and “rational goals.”
  • “Adhocracy” cultures value disruptive innovatation and utilize “open systems.”  They are organizations without permanent structures.  They seek “breakthroughs” — that is, disruptive innovations.In them people jump from project group to project group to understand and solve problems.
  • “Hierarchical” cultures are diametrically opposed to “Adhocracy” cultures.  They value “incremental” change” and seek to “control” or reduce chaos within their organizational boundaries.  Instead of utilizing open systems, they utilize internal processes to standardize and drive efficiency.

Generally, organizations are each a unique combination of several cultures.  Even so,

Thus, if you are a person who likes to innovate and implement fast, you will be frustrated in collaborate or control cultures.   If you are a person who likes to work closely with people in a slower-paced predictable environment, you will be frustrated in create or compete cultures.

Leadership Styles

A second reason you may be guessing your decision is your supervisor’s leadership style. Cultures tend to be influenced by and to influence leadership styles.  To some extent, the CEO influences the culture of the entire organization.  But the influence of the leader is more salient in sub-units.  Thus within sub-units, cultures can change depending on the style of the leader.  Best to understand your leader’s style of influence. Parker (in “Leadership Styles of Agricultural Communications and Information Technology Managers: What Does the Competing Values Framework Tell Us About Them?” in has a helpful framework. For instance,

Likewise, Goleman (in “Leadership That Gets Results” and has a useful model for understanding leadership styles.


Goleman’s styles reflect Parker’s findings.

  • “Pacesetting” corresponds to the “director” or “producer” roles.  “Market-oriented” supervisors influence people by “telling” them to do what is needed by setting high goals.  They say: “Here’s the goal.  Beat it.”
  • “Affiliating” corresponds to the “mentor” and “coach”  roles.  Affiliative managers ask  “How do you feel?” and “Why do you think you feel that way?”
  • Being “democratic” corresponds to “facilitator” role.  “Clan-oriented” supervisors influence people through “participative” strategies — inviting people to contribute their unique gifts to understanding and solving problems, and at the same time seeking “buy-in” or “consensus.”  They ask  “What do you think?  What is your opinion about this issue?”
  • “Visionary” corresponds to the “innovator” role.  “Create-oriented” supervisors are “transformational” and strategic in nature, because they lead people to a new place that, one that “transcends” old ways of doing things in order to more closely align the organization to fundamental values.  They ask “How can we get there?”
  • “Commanding” corresponds to the “monitor” and “coordinator” roles because it involves compliance with one “right” way.  “Hierarchy-oriented’ supervisors “force” or incentivize, positively or negatively, people to “comply.”  They say: “Here’s the process.  Follow it.”

Thus it is important for you to know your personal leadership style and the styles of others in your sub-unit.  People change faster than culture does, therefore the culture of sub-units change faster than the culture of the entire organization.  Better to be in sub-culture and work for a person whose leadership style fits you best.  Also, better to know yourself emotionally in case you don’t.  If, for example, you crave vision and strategy you will be frustrated in a affiliative, clan culture.

One of the least valued yet most important skills is managing your own emotions and positively influencing the emotions of those around you.  But first you must see and understand them.  Doing so will prepare you to alleviate a lot of frustration later. Understanding your own and the emotions of others is the art and science of emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence

Becoming more emotionally intelligent involves:

  • Becoming more aware of what frustrates you and what gives you energy and why (self-awareness) and what frustrates others and gives them energy (social awareness) and why.  It means coming to grips with your competing values map and the competing values maps of others.
  • Becoming more emotionally intelligent means managing your emotions (self-management)  so that you can see and take things in perspective.  So that you can step up to the balcony to gain a better understanding of what is going on all around you.

Here are some signs of a lack of emotional intelligence in the workplace:

  • It seems the followers don’t get the point and it frustrates the boss.
  • The boss is surprised when others negatively respond to their comments/jokes and he/she thinks they’re overreacting.
  • The boss believes it doesn’t matter if he/she is liked at work.
  • The boss weighs in early with assertions and strongly defends them.
  • The boss finds others to blame.
  • For more, see Muriel Maignan Wilkins’ “Signs That You Lack Emotional Intelligence” (

The point is that you don’t want to be an emotionally-toxic person. The other is that you need to be able deal with someone who is.

Leader or Manager

One helpful framework for understanding your cultural situation and emotional intelligence is to understand the difference between a leader or manager.

  • A manager focuses on systems and structure, a leader focuses on people; a manager maintains, a leader develops; a manager relies on control, a leader inspires trust (Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader: “Leaders don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for.  They use passion and ideas to lead people as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them” (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 22).  “Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them.  You listen to your manager or you lose your job” (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 22).

  • Managers administrate, leaders innovate; a manager has a short­-range view, a leader has a long-­range perspective; a manager asks how and when, a leader asks what and why (Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader: Thus, leaders are curious persons who explore first and then consider whether or not he/she wants to accept the ramifications (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 63).  Managers are people who consider whether the fact is acceptable to his religion before he/she explores it (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 63).  Leaders ask for  forgiveness (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 70).  Managers ask for permission (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 70).
  • Managers have their eyes on the bottom line, leaders have their eyes on the horizon (Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader Leaders have faith (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 80).  Managers have religion (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 80).
  • A manager imitates, a leader originates (Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader:  Leaders respond (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 86).  Managers react (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 86).  Leaders do things (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 87).  Managers have things happen to them (Seth Godin, Tribes, p. 87).
  • A manager is a copy, a leader is an original (Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader:

You will find more leaders in Collaborative (Clan) and Create (Adhocracy) cultures. If you and your boss make decisions by imitating what your competitors do, both you and your organization are on a path to slow death.


So how does one lead from the bottom?  In the short-run:

  • Know the culture of your organization and sub-unit.
  • Know your own leadership style and the leadership styles of those around you.
  • Understand the basis of your frustration.
  • Begin to build relationships by learning from and loving your new neighbors.


If you believe in eternity, lead for the long-run:

  • Be the type of person you wish others to be.
  • Seek to do the right thing more than doing things right.
  • Be creative and collaborative across bureaucratic silos; build a tribe.
  • Grow into a “Level 5 Leader,” a person of “personal humility and professional will” (Jim Collins, Good to Great).
  • Become more spiritually mature — a person of character.  For the long run, think of Servant Leadership as a good EI strategy.  (See 
  • Empower others to discern, develop, and deploy their gifts and calling.

When you are in your first full-time job post-college or starting over, it can initially feel as thrilling as walking on water.  But the storm and waves will come. And soon you will sink. You may find yourself drowning.  Just remember that whatever happens God is in control.  Ground yourself in him and don’t worry. Easier said than done.